I don’t normally do the “what I’m thankful for” thing (I have a hard time with sentimentality). But this year, so much has gone on, that I feel compelled. You see, a lot of my friends have been on Facebook and Twitter talking about how rough Thanksgiving is going to be because there are bound to be fight about Ferguson. Cate and I started doing Thanksgiving on our own a few years ago because trying to split things between our two families just wasn’t very enjoyable. But even if we were going to see my parents today, I wouldn’t be worried. I’m thankful for that.
You see, both of my parents came from nothing. And I mean nothing. My dad, especially, can really tell you what dirt poor is. His family is big and his parents both worked hard. My Grandpa served in WWII and Korea and my Grandma worked on military airplanes during the war. And yet, still, when all was over, they couldn’t make ends meet.
Both of my parents dealt with that kind of thing when they were kids, and it taught them something. It taught them that not everyone gets a fair shake. And, I think, once you see that in your own life, it’s hard to not to see it in the lives of others. At least, if you’re willing to look.
My parents aren’t perfect. But they’ve both always been willing to listen to reason. They’ve changed their minds for the better about some things over time. But they’ve never had a hard time understanding that they were lucky. We were poor when I was little and then we weren’t. My parents worked hard and caught some bad breaks, but they did eventually pull themselves out of poverty. They’ve also seen plenty of people work hard and not pull themselves out. They’ve also seen how a lack of opportunity hits some groups a lot harder than others. They know, in short, that there are people out there who work just as hard as they did and who still end up with nothing. They know what privilege is and they know what luck is.
And so, here I am. I have a good job because of a college education that happened only because of the rich childhood my parents gave me. In a week or so, I will have a novel coming out, at least in part, because of some of the wonderful teachers I had at that college. I have a wonderful wife and children I love. I have pretty much everything I wanted. Yes, I worked hard, but I got pretty lucky, too.
Other people aren’t that lucky. This year, I talked to the mother of one of my students who mentioned, without prompting, that she was trying hard to make sure he understood that he had to act a certain way because he was a very large, young black man. This was not part of my reality as a child or a teenager. I have a kind of natural glare that some people find intimidating. But it never really mattered. It was a never a concern. That’s part of the luck and privilege I grew up with.
And so, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful that there will be no arguments like many of my friends will be having today. In my family, I don’t have to do the heavy lifting where social progress is concerned. My parents have already done that. I have it easy at the family dinner table. Easier, probably, than I really deserve to have it.