When I was a kid, poverty was as real as baseball, apple pie and the pledge of allegiance to the flag. In elementary school, not only did you have to learn your ABCs, but you also had to figure out how to trade your government cheese with the other kids before lunch was over.
But our kind of cheese wasn’t considered real currency in the cafeteria. Everyone knew that the cheese we ate was for poor people. And every day at lunch, we learned something that our teachers could never teach us in the classroom: The “American Dream” came at a price. A price that some of us could not afford.
And the best thing we could do for one another was to watch out for those kids who believed too much in “hope.” We knew that if you believed in hope, you might start believing that things are going to get better. And when they don’t, some kids don’t know how to pick themselves up off the ground again. They end up using up all their energy believing and hoping.
So at the ages of 5 and 6, we knew that we had to choose between two things: either dreaming or surviving. We chose to survive. And that was that saddest day of our lives. As we got older, the dreamers would tell us that we needed to “pull ourselves up by our own boot straps.” But what the dreamers did not know was that we only had one pair of boots in our household. And they had to be handed down. Boots that were either too big or too tight. But we we were taught to be grateful for what we had. Whether or not we believed in God.
It seems as though not much has changed, now that I have become a man. The poor keep getting poorer and the rich keep getting richer.