Fourth Of July Musings

"It isn't the hand we are dealt but the way we play it." I've heard that so often - usually from people who are extremely successful - to justify the inequality of other people's lives. In other words being born in a drug infested slum with poor schools and dangerous living conditions does not condemn a child's life to poverty - it is just that those born into it may be inept at playing the game of life. Of course there are always the transcendent few - but in the main, suffering is a very poor teacher. It has been my experience that we learn best from joy. The school of hard knocks should be closed and padlocked. But there are those who prefer to believe that it is okay for many to be deprived - that there is a life lesson in it that will allow them to rise beyond it. Rags to riches - the American way. Baloney.

We must remember that the Elie Wiesel's of the world (and there are too few) transcend the worst because they are blessed with extraordinary qualities of humanity and endurance - not given to everyone who suffers a brutal beginning. The Horatio Alger myth, that of a poor, starving boy who through a chance encounter performs a service to a wealthy older man (stops his runaway horses) and is made a protege as a result and set on a path to wealth and happiness- happens only in Horatio Alger stories. In life there are few if any rich men with runaway horses, and if those horses runaway they would more often trample the poor child. My father was one of those children. 10 years old, American born, and already working to help support his immigrant family. Run down by a runaway carriage horse on the LES, leg broken, placed in a nearby Catholic charity hospital, but the owner of the carriage that ran him down did not come by and offer him riches - Instead, my father worked his way up in the world by grit and anger - a volatile combination. It brought him American success and a little bit of hell for him and his future family.

Because I entered college having just turned seventeen in 1949, not too long after the end of WW2, I attended classes with vets who had seen the worst of life on the battlefield, and with a few survivors of the Nazi camps. The vets were sometimes rowdy, but dedicated to their work, eager to put behind the years of battle and death. Most had spent their youths in middle class America, a world of soda fountains and HS proms, where the worst they encountered was a loss on the playing field.

The camp survivors at my college were different: often dour, solemn, and drained of all youth - although both groups - the vets and the camp survivors - found an escape in scholarship, but for the camp survivors there was no putting aside their experience of cruelty and loss to make a new life. As horrible as the battlefields of Europe and Asia had been in no way did they compare with Buchenwald and Bergen Belsen. So I have always felt that the hand we have been dealt mattered a great deal - and that institutional inequality - as we have it today - allows for few poor boys or girls to rise in the world. A few do. A very few.

Yes - hard as it is for some to fathom - government - big, ugly, government acting in the interests of the many and demanding proper taxation from the few - that is the only way to level the proverbial playing field. To make America work from time to time it requires a reshuffling of the deck and a redistribution of the cards - little enough to ask from a republic or a democracy - but hard enough to bring about in the era of Trumpian selfishness, and where the cries of shrinking the government are a euphemism for denying a fair shake for poor children. Enough lecturing. Let the fireworks light up the skies - and give a moment of thought to John Adams, for me the best of our founding fathers, who put the cause of justice for all above pretty Jeffersonian words and false promises.

Let us use the 4th as a reminder to make a better America for all. Enjoy your day. And keep the kiddies away from the roman candles and the barbecue pit. Truly miss those days when my kids were young and we lived in the country during the summer - and even then I appreciated the fact that for all I had endured I had been dealt a pretty good hand. One that was easy to play.