The week brings news that Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, has been hospitalized after suffering a stroke. Also this week, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, announced she is retiring from Congress, a year after she was shot in the head.
Luckily for both of them, Congress is a very generous place to work, a place where a horrific tragedy (such as an assassination attempt) or terrible health news (such as a stroke) doesn't mean professional uncertainty and financial destitution. It really would be lovely if the rest of the world were that generous.
For starters, members of Congress have the finest health care in the world. No one wants to be ill, but being ill with the Cadillac of health insurance behind you does make it a little easier.
Perhaps even more generous is the fact that members of Congress who are incapacitated can stick around as long as they want.
And if they happen to be really popular back home — most commonly a result of siphoning massive amounts of your federal tax dollars back to their district — then they can stick around a decade or more beyond their past-due date. Aides just wheel them into the chamber and they "vote."
With modern advancements in medicine and embalming, it is not hard to imagine Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd still "serving" in the U.S. Senate today.
This is by no means to say that when members of Congress become incapacitated, they should be booted to the curb, as so often happens to regular citizens who have the terrible misfortune of no longer being able to carry out the duties of their jobs.
Just think of your own job for a minute. What would happen if tragedy struck and you were rendered paralyzed or mute or otherwise incapacitated?
Would a garbage man be strapped to the back of his garbage truck and driven along his route as if he were still working?
Say you are a dancer and you suffered a horrible injury. Would you be carried out on stage and pranced around like a puppet on strings?
Or you are a court lawyer and a stroke rendered you mute. Would you be wheeled into courtrooms like some kind of ventriloquist doll "delivering" arguments spoken by other people?
Of course not! But if you are a member of Congress and tragedy befalls you, this is exactly what happens to you. You are simply propped up and there is no need for you to worry about how you will be cared for or whether your paycheck will keep coming so that your family will continue to be fed.
This observation is not intended as an insensitive slap at those incapacitated people who are lucky enough to have been members of Congress when tragedy struck. Rather, it should be a humbling observation for those members of Congress who are healthy.
Just look around and you realize that you are well paid, well cared for and hold among the most laughably inessential jobs in the world. Seriously, a garbage man would have to be replaced. But you can still do your job utterly incapacitated.
• Charles Hurt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org