Some personal thoughts on gratitude: I complain. We all do. I look at our country; I look at Washington, DC; I look at - Friar Buck [10:20:21 10/22/14]
my state government in Hartford; I look at the moral climate in America in general. None of it is really to my liking. I am probably not alone. Everyone has their ideal, and none of us ever achieve it. I want something better for myself and for the generations that will follow me. I think it is achievable, and I get angry that the lessons of history need to be relearned through painful experience. It is easy to become bitter and take for granted the lives we all live.
As many of you know, I travel internationally as a part of my job. I have been thinking about something since I visited the Middle East, especially after my visit to Egypt. My company has a representative in Egypt who is a retired Major General from the Egyptian Air Force. He has told me a little bit about his life. When he was growing up, he went to school with Adel Imam, a famous Egyptian movie star of Arabic language films. He went to school with Ahmed Shafik, former Prime Minister of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak and former Commander of the Egyptian Air Force. Shafik ran for President but lost to Mohammed Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood). Our rep does not put on the airs of wealth, but he usually takes me to nice restaurants when I am in Cairo. These would be places that the average Egyptian could not afford.
During my recent visit, he took me to Giza to the pyramids and Great Sphynx to see a sound and light show. He also took me to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. As we drove around the bowels of Cairo, I saw a lot of poverty. I saw shacks, people living in cemetery structures, donkey carts on poorly paved roads, people selling live chickens at the side of the road (in an urban area, not a farm market or rural area), cars that have not been road-worthy in over 20 years. I saw all kinds of things I would never see in the US. Looking at these different images, it dawned on me that our rep was from a prominent family. They must have had money for him to attend the schools he attended. They must have had influence in order for him to rise through the ranks of the Egyptian Air Force. This observation is not intended to take anything away from my rep. He is a very smart, very capable guy. I am glad he is my rep. At the same time, there is no way the guy leading the donkey cart down the road in Cairo will ever rise above that station. His father probably had a similar business and a similar economic status. The future of that man's children is likely very much like his own. He is born, lives, and dies at the same level. I know all of this, and I knew it when I first visited Egypt, but it really hit me on this trip.
I thought about my own life. My dad is a hillbilly from the coalmining region of West Virginia (Mingo County). My dad contracted polio as a young child almost 3 years old. He walked with a limp his entire life. When he graduated from high school, he attended a trade school to become a barber, and he was licensed for that occupation in 1949. He moved to Columbus in 1964, married my mom in 1965 (she was also a hillbilly from the same part of WV), and I came along almost 20 months later. My dad was a simple barber. He was not a man of means. He and my mom divorced when I was 9, and my dad had to pay her half the value of their marital assets, which was not a lot. Nevertheless, it is a lot of money if you don't have it. My mom split the scene, and my dad had custody of my sister and me. Somehow he juggled the finances and worked second jobs including stints at a steel mill and a meat-packing plant. He also maintained a real estate license and occasionally sold a house to make a little extra money. His life improved once my sister and I got older and moved out of the house. Fewer mouths to feed combined with paying off long-term debts definitely helped.
I had a great life growing up, but we were hardly a wealthy family. I am by no means wealthy today, but I am certainly at a higher social and economic status than my dad was. My kids definitely have it better than I did, and I am not simply referring to the improvement in technology that has made all of our lives better. The details of my life are unique to me, but the fact that I am living at a higher socio-economic level than my upbringing is not unique at all. In fact, it is fundamentally American. I hope my sons have greater opportunities and prosperity than I have experienced.
In many other countries, people live and die where they are born (in every way: geographically, socially, economically, etc.). In America we are affected by our birth but not defined and certainly not confined by it. We have the chance to improve our lot in life. Our parents push us towards that end. It is almost expected. The stories of people going from rags to riches are not all that uncommon for Americans, but they are unheard of in many other places in the world. If you are not careful, you can miss how different America is. What we expect in America is beyond the wildest dreams of people in many other parts of the world. I can find a lot of things to criticize, but I don't want my criticism to be taken as ingratitude. I am grateful for the example of my father. I am grateful for the sacrifices of those who made our country the "land of the free and home of the brave." I haven't done it lately, but I want to thank God again for allowing me to be born in the greatest country on the planet, the greatest country in history. We have our problems, and I do not want to my gratitude to be confused with complacency. We have to work as individuals to make our little part of America better. All of that being said, I never want to overlook the greatness of our nation. Be grateful. You're an American.