DeFrates column: Appreciating the real value of what we are handed
A few years ago, someone told me that I’d been handed everything in my life. My ego immediately reared up defensively with numbers and dates, all proving my hard-won independence — I worked for everything I had! Nobody handed me anything!
My family had not been rich by any means growing up, and I’d moved out of my parents’ house at 19, paid my way through school, worked dirtbag seasonal jobs to make ends meet for years, taught middle schoolers, bought a house with my husband, etc. My mind reeled at the injustice and ignorance of the assumption.
My husband and I were, and still are, the rare examples of middle class in this valley — trying to make ends meet without family money or free child care. So this person obviously had no idea what they were talking about. In fact, I stewed on that comment for far longer than I should have, rehearsing all of the comebacks I could have said for months after the fact.
But a few years later, and still, I am ashamed to admit, occasionally stewing, I started to realize that maybe this person had been more correct than I would have liked to admit. At first, I had assumed they were talking about money, and maybe they were, but the more I imagined all of my counter-arguments to prove them wrong, the more I realized that money had nothing to do with it. Finally, it became clear to me that if they were around today, I would have to wholeheartedly agree with them.
I have had everything handed to me; as long as I recognize that money isn’t everything.
I was handed a stable family with lots of love and no addictions.
I was handed a love of learning in a house full of books, and taught critical thinking and common sense (which I use sometimes).
I was handed parental role models who showed me every day what hard work, honesty, faith and compassion looked like.
I was handed the ability to value love, passion and truth above money, as well as the ability to live on a budget.
I was handed the privilege of a skin color that I never had to think about.
I was handed physical health and the value of early nutrition and exercise. Also sunscreen.
I was handed self-confidence by the inhuman amounts of patience and support given to me every day during my formative years, silently proving to me that I was capable of anything I chose to do.
I was handed a belief in the goodness of a world with infinite possibilities.
Everything. I was handed everything.
Without this long list of intangible, invaluable things, which the sacrifices of my parents, family and friends made possible for me when I was a child, my life could not look like it does today.
I could not have grown up to trust easily in the good people who have helped me so much over the years. I could never have imagined a world big enough to explore, nor had the courage to do so, missing out on so many adventures, memories and powerful, self-reflective experiences. Without confidence in myself, I would not have been able to take the biggest risks which have given me the biggest rewards — moving to the mountains, falling in love, changing schools, taking out a mortgage, having children … And the list goes on.
Sure, I have earned and we continue to earn nearly every penny that gets us through the day, and we live without some of frills, and occasionally make sacrifices, but money has nothing to do with it.
It is easy for a very literate person to read the fine print on student loans. It is easy to know what that loan means if someone modeled good financial practices for you as a child. It is easy to form a healthy relationship with another person if you grew up watching what a healthy relationship looks like. It is easy to say no to drugs when your self-worth has already been given to you. It is easy to find your way when you have been shown how to stick with your faith, and evaluate your priorities. It is easy to adapt to change and loss when you have been taught how to laugh and believe in better opportunities. It is easy to plan for the long-term when your belly is full and your house is warm.
Sometimes, I hear people talking about others who would have more opportunities, “If they just worked harder.” Or that same person will proudly proclaim, like I once did, that, “Nobody ever handed me anything.” And I have to wonder if that statement is true. I have to wonder if most people who say things like that weren’t actually handed a long list of incredible things that just happen to not be money. Maybe their upbringing was much more challenging than mine. Maybe they had parents who struggled with addiction, or didn’t value education, or who cut them down instead of building them up, I can’t possibly know.
But I do know that the real advantages we are handed, the ones that we can’t see in our bank accounts, are the ones that matter the most.
Lindsay DeFrates’ column now appears on the fourth Tuesday of every month.
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