The essence of our conversation was that we categorize the most memorable events of our lives by the year they occurred. Because of that, we automatically label certain years as good or bad.
Based on that, the year 2013 has been a bad year. People I care about are hurting.
Some are dealing with addiction in their family.
Some are dealing with divorce.
Some are dealing with employment issues.
And some are dealing with a diagnosis of cancer. Again.
Even worse, all of these individuals have incredible compassion for others. They are selfless and generous and, most importantly, they are positive. They talk about moving on and about miracles.
Most of all, they don’t define life through their own experiences but rather through the experiences of those they’ve touched.
Some day when I’m more removed from immediate crises, I will reflect back on the year 2013. Even though I’ve experienced more sorrow than celebration, I don’t know that I could ever categorize this as a bad year.
I will simply categorize it as a year that my friends became my heroes.
And that will always make me smile.
Day 90: Heroes Day 89: The Cricket in Times Square Day 88: The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human Day 84: Captain Underpants Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day 77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green Lights Day 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory Day 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of Hay Day 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember Day 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessons Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
“You were NOT a Republican,” she stated. ”There is just no way.”
“Not just a Republican,” I replied. ”I was actually heartbroken that, because of my age, I missed voting for Ronald Reagan by only three months in the 1984 election.”
Since I was talking to my friend on the phone, I can’t confirm that her mouth was actually hanging open, but I’m pretty sure it was.
“What happened?” she finally asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” I replied. ”But by the time I graduated from college, I’d changed political parties.”
In all honesty, I do know what happened. I’d identified the core values that would guide the rest of my life, and they simply just didn’t align with the Republican Party.
I don’t think my friend, or anyone else, really cares about how I arrived at my decision. And, until this past week, I didn’t feel any need to explain.
But after witnessing one too many debates about how people who receive SNAP (more commonly known as food stamps) may be eligible for additional benefits if they were affected by the derecho (http://www.catholiccharitieswv.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=300%3Awv-long-term-disaster-recovery-derecho-storm-a-power-outage-disaster&catid=45%3Aannouncements&limitstart=1), I felt the need to say something.
On the surface, the gist of the conservatives’ argument against the additional benefits was that the government was once again frivolously spending taxpayers dollars.
But, as the arguments continued, a different, more self-centered concern actually emerged. Several people were turning the discussion into a conversation about fairness, or more particularly unfairness, in regards to their own lives: ” I lost all my food when the power went out, and no one is paying me to replace it.” “I have a lot of health care bills, and the government isn’t stepping in to help me.” ”Basically, I’m being punished for having a job. “
Sadly, I could relate to their complaints. That kind of thinking was the reason I had originally registered a Republican.
At the age of 18, I really did believe that everyone had an equal opportunity in this country, and if a person worked hard and persevered, they should be able to meet their own needs. If they couldn’t make ends meet, they needed to work harder or get a better education to get a better job. I believed in responsibility: if people made bad decisions then they, not I, should have to pay for those decisions. And I believed that our leaders had our, not their own, best interests at heart.
I held onto those beliefs because I was surrounded by people who believed the same thing. Then I went to college, and I was surrounded by people who didn’t.
I met too many people who had been denied equal opportunity through no fault of their own. I met too many people who had made poor decision after poor decision only to be bailed out by family while others fell into bad luck and had no one who could help. I learned more and more about greed, inequality and political corruption. And I learned more about myself.
At some point, I was confronted with the ultimate question: is life about what I can do for myself or is it about providing unconditional support for others, even when it sometimes costs me?
I chose the latter.
Don’t get me wrong. I can be very self-centered, and I know a lot of Republicans who are anything but selfish.
I just don’t think the core of my political beliefs should be about what makes my, or my family’s, life better or easier. I think public policy should be about ensuring the safety and well-being of all Americans, particularly those who haven’t had the same privileges that I’ve had: good parents, a good education, a decent I.Q. and a lack of any significant health problems.
When I look back on 18-year-old me, I still understand where I was coming from.
I still think people should do their best and be responsible for their behavior. I also think corporations and millionaires should do the same.
I still believe in hard work and self discipline. I also believe that too many people work very hard and still don’t get paid a fair wage so they can’t make ends meet.
I still wish life were fair. I also realize that making life more fair for everyone requires public policies that provide additional support for those who need it.
The difference between 18 year-old me and 45 year-old me is I don’t think the world owes me anything. Instead, I think I owe the world. The difference is I know some people put their own interests above the interests of others, even when it comes to the environment or safety or health. And I know that the most effective way to ensure such people do minimal damage is to implement and enforce regulation.The difference is that even though I don’t agree with wasteful spending, the wasteful spending I’ve seen isn’t for the programs intended to make the lives of most Americans better.
The difference is that I have enough life experience to know that life isn’t about being fair.
And that’s why I got so frustrated with the debate about additional SNAP/food stamp assistance. The debate wasn’t about whether people needed the assistance. Instead, it was a debate about fairness. I’m pretty sure if you asked the majority of people who were eligible to receive the help, they would be the first to tell you life isn’t fair. If it were, they’d be fortunate enough to afford to replace their own groceries while complaining about those who couldn’t.
There are times when I just want to scream out loud. But that doesn’t necessarily solve any problems, so sometimes I choose to scream through writing.
Now is one of those times.
While I can’t emphasize enough that I believe in the First Amendment, that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and that everyone should be allowed to express them, there are times when those opinions just seem so off base.
Take, for example, the number of people who complain about others who take “handouts” and/or boast that they have never done so themselves. They often say this as though they are morally superior.
Personally, I’ve received more handouts than I ever deserved. And this Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for them.
The handouts I’ve received may not have been in the form of government assistance for low-income individuals, but they are the reason I haven’t had to depend on such help when I’ve hit a rough patch.
I am grateful that I received the handout of a mother who didn’t abuse alcohol or drugs and had a healthy diet while she was pregnant. Her decisions provided me with a giant advantage in life. I was born healthy and had parents who ensured I maintained my health. Too many people start life without that handout and spend the rest of their life trying to catch up.
I am grateful for the handout of parents who were concerned about my education from the day I was born. They shared their love of the written word by reading out loud to me. They didn’t set me in front of a television so they could go on with the lives they wanted. They provided me with books, crayons and the opportunity to express myself. Too many people spent the first three years of their lives without any of those handouts - handouts that greatly influence their ability to learn and process information.
I am grateful for the handout of being a child that never knew what it was like to be truly scared or cold or hungry. There was always food on the table, in the cupboard, in the refrigerator and in the freezer. I never went to bed afraid that there wouldn’t be heat in the morning or that I wouldn’t have a coat to wear in cold weather. Too many people grow up without the simple handout of having those basic needs met – which creates a completely different perspective of how the world works.
I am grateful for the handout of parents who made their children and their family a priority. I always felt wanted. I always felt like I belonged and I always felt like I helped make my family complete. I was never told I was a mistake. I was never told I was a burden. And I was never told that my parents’ life would be easier if I wasn’t around. Just as importantly, I wasn’t hit, kicked burned or assaulted in my own home. Too many people grow up abused and wondering why they even exist. The handout of love is powerful, and without it, people often seek affection and attention in the wrong places and in the wrong ways.
I am grateful for the handout of having parents who wanted me to succeed and who demonstrated self-discipline and good decision-making skills. They required my brother and me to take responsibility for our actions. They also ensured that we were exposed to a wide variety of opportunities and activities. They were never in jail, they never dragged us into unsafe locations and they didn’t bring a variety of unsavory characters into our home. Too many people grow up without the handout of positive role models. Their parents or caretakers or community members are stumbling through life attempting to meet their own needs without even considering those of their children. Our ability to make choices and understand consequences is a skill… and like all skills it needs to be demonstrated and practiced.
I am grateful for the handouts I received that were beyond human control. I’m not dyslexic, I’m not disabled and I’m not disadvantaged. I am surrounded by people who can lend a helping hand. When I faced a real emergency, there were always people in my life who had the resources to help me. Too many people are surrounded by people who are facing their own crises and don’t have the ability to help anyone else.
I am truly saddened by people who view poverty as a simple issue. It isn’t.
And I am bothered that some people think life is an even playing field and everyone has equal opportunities. We don’t.
And I worry about the belief that low-income people have flawed characters rather than an unbelievable set of obstacles to overcome.
I agree that there are success stories.There are people who have beaten the odds, overcome horrible situations and gone on to live very productive lives. I am privileged to know such people.
And I also know that somewhere along their life path, they got some handouts – generally in the form of a caring person or persons who wanted to share all they had been given: whether material or spiritual. People who wanted to pay it forward rather than to hold it tight. People who understood the value of offering their hearts and their hands out to others.
On this Thanksgiving, I am not only grateful for the all of the hands that have been held out to me, I am grateful for the role models and heroes who continue to do this for others on a daily basis.
Holding your hands out can be a miracle for others.
Opening your heart to others can be a miracle for you.
I hope everyone has the opportunity to do both this Thanksgiving and into the upcoming holiday season.