You may be surprised to learn that people sometimes disagree with me. You may be equally surprised that sometimes I see their point in the disagreement. Sometimes, I agree with that disagreement.
But that would not be the case with a reader named Lois who took me to task for a column on the American dream. I lamented that we’re not doing enough to extol it. I asked, “Why aren’t we celebrating the opportunities of a country where the poor can rise mightily?”
Lois thought I was an idiot. She is not alone. Others think this, too. Most, though, don’t bother to tell me. But she wrote, “I just read ‘Living the American Dream’ and wonder where you have been the last few years. With people losing their jobs and homes, jobs being sent out of the country, and billionaires protecting their billions at the expense of the middle class — and you wonder why people aren’t talking about the American dream?”
Ouch. When I’m accused of having lost touch with hard-working Americans who have faced misfortune, it’s a stab to the heart because I have long been one of those Americans. I come from people who knew more misfortune than good fortune. We live in the country, not a neighborhood or a subdivision. We live where common, hard-working people survive by the turn of their hands and the sweat of their brows.
We attend a small, country church where, when one is in need, we pass the collection plate and empty our pockets to help with house payments, children who are sick, natural disasters and gardens that don’t grow. Lois insinuated that I am out of touch with people who struggle. It hit me hard, so I thought hard.
I disagree with her disagreement.
Not for anything having anything to do with me, but for this reason: America, as a land of opportunity, is at her best when the chips are down. That’s what America does best — turns a blind eye to whether you’re poor, rich, down on your luck or homeless. America throws open her arms and offers not just this country, but the world, if you work hard enough, believe long enough and trudge through enough muddy no’s.
America is the land of the comeback for those who won’t step back after they’ve been stepped on. What could be more wonderful than to live in a land like this?
To know this is true, I have to look no further back than my own parents from the Appalachian foothills. They both grew up with nothing. Nothing. They started their adult lives with nothing. But from nothing, they made something.
Neither had parents who died with anything to leave as an inheritance. So every penny they had, they earned with calloused hands and by the grace of God. At one point, when I was 6 years old, they stood on the edge of losing everything when an employee ran up debt on my daddy’s credit, charging more to Daddy’s good credit than he could make in three years.
Hand in hand, they stepped up to the line, looked fear squarely in the eye and did not blink. Mama went to work in a sewing plant to help. They came back. Though no one would ever call them wealthy, by the time they died, they had acquired — fully paid off — a farm, a home with several acres and Daddy’s business, and they had accumulated a bit of money in the bank. Neither one ever held a credit card.
From those trying times, I learned. And when my own tribulations came, I did what they did: the American comeback.
“Where have I been?” Lois asked. The answer is simple: I’ve been there, and now I’m here.
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