“My wife is dying. Please let us board, so we can go home and be
together for her last few hours.”
No one remembers the exact words spoken by David Lee-Geist, as he
showed Washington State Ferry workers the doctor’s letter requesting
priority boarding for 42-year-old Kathleen Lee-Geist. Not even David.
All he remembers is that he finally broke down in tears, unable to
understand state workers’ unwillingness to honor the doctor’s orders.
Ferry workers were adamant: The Rules required 24-hour advance
A supervisor’s telephone number, grudgingly given out after
five-o’clock finally arrived, rang at an empty desk. Meanwhile, Kathleen
Lee-Geist’s last few hours of life ebbed away in the back of a van,
stranded among lines of cars waiting to board a Washington State ferry,
bound for her home in the San Juan Islands.
While husband David pleaded in vain with ferry workers to let his
dying wife board, another passenger, Valerie Boyd, herself under
doctor’s boarding orders offered her spot in line. She, too, argued in
vain with a ferry worker loading the cars. The Seattle Times reported,
“He finally said, ‘Lady, if you don’t get on this ferry, neither one of
you is going to get on this ferry.’ [Boyd's] sister, who was driving,
pulled the car onto the ferry.”
Five hours later, half spent waiting for the next ferry, Kathleen
Lee-Geist arrived home. The next evening she died. The Times reported:
“Susan Harris, spokeswoman for Washington State Ferries, said the
incident should not have happened. ‘Certainly, we should have put her on
the vessel,’ she said. ‘There should have been a certain amount of
compassion involved here, which there was not.’”
Ms. Harris, however, refused to name the supervisor who denied the
Lee-Geist’s boarding. She said he “feels terrible” and is “on vacation.”
But “the rules are the rules, and it’s important that people know the
rules,” Ms. Harris said.
Government jobs appeal to the pettiest in people. That is because
they offer the power to deny — an ambulance ride, a life-or-death
operation, a ride home for a dying woman. Knowing that they lack real
authority — that born of wisdom, knowledge, compassion and service –
the bureaucratically-minded ingratiate themselves into positions of
pseudo-authority, where they have the power to deny, conferred by the
rules they make, enforced finally at the point of a gun. For in the end,
all government authority is the authority of force, coercion, and the
power to kill, without retribution from the state.
Go ahead, plead your case as your wife, husband, or child lies dying
in the back seat of your car. The nameless, faceless bureaucrat will be
oh-so-sorry on the outside, while inside he gleefully exercises the
power of life and death over someone he despises, someone who is
wealthy, or poor, or handsome, or ugly, or wearing the wrong shirt or
tie; the very someone he promised to serve, and whose money he gladly
takes twice every month.
Go ahead — hand over to him the surgeon’s scalpel, the teacher’s
chalkboard, the farmer’s field, and the citizen’s firearm. You will be
treated with every bit of the dignity you deserve.