Grateful for the Land of Opportunity
American prosperity allows millions of families to give their children a better life.
When my sister and I were children, my father used to tell us frequently that we were lucky to be born in the United States. Other little children around the world, he would tell us, weren’t so fortunate. My parents tried hard to make sure my sister and I didn’t take the things we had for granted.
Still, it is hard not to think that what you know is normal. When you are used to something, it is hard to remember that it is special. It takes frequent reminders to stay humble and grateful when the natural course of human nature is to take things for granted and wish for more.
One such reminder is the holiday of Thanksgiving. While we should always give thanks to God for the things which we have been given, the Thanksgiving holiday provides us time to pause and to more thoroughly demonstrate our gratitude. The American people have much to be grateful for.
What we have here in America is something extraordinary in the history of the human race. Despite the rise in income inequality in the past forty years, there is greater social mobility here than there has been in most societies human beings have known. We are the wealthiest country on Earth—the GDP per capita of Mississippi is greater than the GDP per capita of France. A poor person in America has things rich people could never have dreamed of two hundred years ago.
That doesn’t make us better than citizens of other countries, but it should make us appreciate more how lucky we are to live here and make us want to do what we can to ensure that prosperity is more widely shared. None of us deserve what we have been given. Much of it was passed down to us by those who went before.
My father’s grandparents were immigrants from Ireland. His mother was orphaned at an early age, and his father lost his own father at age thirteen. This was during the Depression. As the oldest child in the family, my grandfather had to work to support his younger siblings. He worked four jobs to put himself through college. My grandmother never went to college. My grandparents were poor, but after the war, my grandfather got a job as an engineer for Pratt and Whitney. He and my grandmother raised three children and put them through college, and each would end up doing better than their parents.
My mother and father weren’t wealthy, but their own parents had risen from poverty into the ranks of the middle class. Neither of them ever took that fact for granted. They wanted my sister and I to understand how important it was that we came from families that had been poor within living memory. I never heard my grandparents complain about the circumstances of their childhoods. My grandmother spent time in an orphanage and had very little memory of her own parents. She and my grandfather worked hard and never asked for recognition or special favors. They gave my father, and his brother and sister, a better life than they had known. I was born owing a great debt to them, and to my parents and my mother’s parents.
My family loved this country because it was here that the children and grandchildren of Irish immigrants could rise from poverty to comfortable middle-class life. I love this country because it gave me everything I have ever known, far more than I could ever have deserved.
The fears that we are no longer the land of opportunity are unfounded. America is still a land in which individuals and families can rise through hard work and ingenuity. Our gratitude for that opportunity should motivate us to do everything we can to ensure that when our grandchildren have children, America will still be that land of opportunity.
Ben Connelly is a writer, long-distance runner, former engineer, and author of “Grit: A Practical Guide to Developing Physical and Mental Toughness.” He publishes short stories and essays at Hardihood Books. @benconnelly6712
Thanks for reading Vine and Fig Tree! Subscribe to receive future issues in your inbox.