Most of the really good writing I read are semi biographical stories about people growing up poor and making the best of it. Well here’s an opposite story. Not that we were rich, but I don’t think we ever suffered for anything. But sometimes when you grow up, you realize you’ve been inundated with the most ridiculous myths. Here is the story of one of those myths.
I had a pretty normal upbringing until I was 9. When I was 9 everything changed. I came home one day and my father, who was never ever home and when he was, was always in a bad mood, so much so that myself and everyone else gave him a very wide berth and stayed at least an arms length away, was home. He was home, and he was in his bedroom with my mother and he was crying. The only emotion I had ever seen before this was either a neutral one or anger, so this was quite a shock. (I generally only have a few childhood memories – one was when my sister came home from the hospital and finding out I was actually invisible to everyone except my Uncle Eddie; and the others involved stealing my mother’s diet pills or stealing her hidden Oreos). Back to dad, he was in the bedroom crying and I was informed my grandfather had died. My grandfather had died on United Airlines, in the first major airline mid-air disaster – two planes colliding , over New York on Dec 16 1960. My father was supposed to be aboard that plane. Needless to say, after an event like this, everyone’s life changes. I suppose in retrospect, this was probably when my father began to change, although this occurred slowly and gradually over the years following. It led to my grandmother dying just a few short years later, after she took up valium and smoking cigarettes. She was my closest bond and I often fantasized she was my mother. She loved me and made me feel special. She would let me invent all sorts of dishes in her kitchen, and led to my early love of baking. Of course, when something came out both eatable and delicious, it was impossible to reproduce. But that was part of the fun. We lost her just as suddenly, a vacation where she had a massive stroke and never returned. I went into a deep depression at that time. I was 11.
There was a settlement from the Airlines, as a mid air collision should have been avoidable. Our family finances improved, my father invested in his business and for a time, it was very successful. We moved from Chicago’s south shore to the North Shore. I did not fit in. Somehow, I incorporated this family myth that many in the North Shore used to have. There was this idea that if you were financially successful, you were better than other people. Clearly Donald Trump inherited this notion but has never questioned it as so. It is the most irrational and ridiculous notion ever, that somehow financial success makes you better in some way. It doesn’t; it makes you better at making and managing money. There’s nothing about that which makes you a better human being. Every time I got rejected by someone, especially every man I was ever interested in as I came of age, I thought, well he just doesn’t realize how special I am, my family is rich, he’ll be sorry! And I walked around with this crazy idea for years, that somehow I had more to offer, or was more special than others, because of this one facet of our life. It’s true that we went to some very expensive restaurants at this time and people at those super fancy places do treat you very special. And the salesman at some stores actually called our house from time to time to invite us to their sales. It was crazy how much money we spent on shoes during those years, shoes that were very rarely worn. Who buys 10 pairs of shoes anyway? That was crazy! During that time, I guess we were “Nouveau Riche”, or at least my mom briefly spent like we were. You can get some crazy distorted pictures of the world, and crazy beliefs too. Enter reality, teen rebellion, the social revolution of the 60s and 70s, and growing up. People didn’t like me very much, and I didn’t like me very much either. I had no idea that the reason many people disliked me, was that because of how inferior I felt inside, I walked around acting like I was something special and better than everyone else. I incorporated that notion that somehow this made me better than others. I didn’t make eye contact, I didn’t smile, I did my work and never talked to anyone because I was afraid they would see what I felt, that inside I was nothing. The emptiness from the depression, the loss of the most important love I’d ever known at that vulnerable age, left me very broken.
When you think of someone powerful that you admire, who comes to mind? The people who come to my mind are the ones who have overcome adversity, and given something special to the world. It could be someone as simple as a nurse I worked with, who was very well loved and admired. When she spoke, everyone listened; she helped a lot of people and she was a great speaker. Or Nelson Mandela, or the Dalai Lama of our time, Oprah, Maya Angelou, or Mother Theresa. It was what they did, not what they had that made them special. When I worked with my sister in law at her catering business on the weekends, I learned something really interesting. When you have the opportunity to go into a lot of other people’s homes, you get some interesting perspectives. The richer the homes we went into, the more unassuming the people often were. This was a new experience for me, and eye opening. With the bravery I slowly developed through keeping my eyes open and facing my fears, I realized that being open to others, owning your shit and being real was the best way to connect to others. And the ones you will want to be with are the ones who have also done the same thing, so when you’re pissed or obnoxious, they can call you on it or you can call them on theirs and they will own it. And through bravery and owning your shit you love and heal and grow. What I learned most of all? How valuable you are is not based on your things. How valuable you are is not based on your net worth. How valuable you are is based on how much you give. The love you give to yourself and others. The kindnesses and compassion you give to yourself and others. The forgiveness and patience you give to yourself and others. And they don’t cost a thing.