Each day I attempt to chronicle a memory, reflect on an experience, share details of my day or capture in writing a highlight that I think values more time for thought. In so doing, it ensures that my recall of the experience or highlight isn’t left to chance or to memory. Too much of my life has been lost in living. As one day blends into the next or the following week absorbs the week before, so it goes with the months and the years. It all becomes a blur of activity without the advantage of reflection associated to lessons learned. By writing something down from each day, it’s like keeping a journal and the record activates my ability to give the experience more thought.
The thing I’ve found interesting is that I’m often told that my stories reminded others of similar experiences. In the process, those memories activate for the reader that which has been forgotten or set aside.
Yesterday morning when I posted my blog about the legislative process and the scurry of politicians to add special interest amendments to a bill slated for quick passage, I did so with the thought that most people would probably gloss over the article and not have that much of an interest. I was wrong.
I should have known that details associated to meeting the needs of children would rank high on the list of what you value and want. Thanks for that affirmation and for the many kind thoughts that were expressed.
One thoughtful reader of my posting on the WordPress platform referenced something that Hubert Humphrey once stated: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” He went on to add: “If this is true and I am sure it is, then the government has failed, but much worse we the people have failed”.
Perhaps the greatest untapped resource available to our generation is for people like you and me to voluntarily come alongside others at the point of need. We have the capacity to eliminate the sense of aloneness that those in the midst of difficulty find characteristic of their life. People need support. People need to feel valued. People need a reason for hope. People need people.
Last week, I received an email from a dear friend. Our friendship goes back forty-six years. She was my supervisor when I was a new, wet behind the ears and very green child protective services worker. She taught me a lot. When it comes to doing the right things for kids from hard places, she intuitively has the skillset and knowledge to know what children and families most need. Of course, she also had the book learning and credentials to be in the role of authority, but her heart and passion for children trumped the credentials. There are some things you can’t learn from simply going to school. She had what counted most before she had the credentials to go with the empathy that placed her at the top of the leaderboard.
At any rate, she emailed me last week to make a book recommendation. She told me I could find Hillbilly Elegy in any bookstore, but she failed to point out that it is #1 New York Times Best Seller. It is sub-titled: “A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.” She said of the book: “You and I have both worked this kids case a thousand times. What’s interesting is that you get to hear all of this from the child’s point of view.”
It is a powerful book, but not an easy book to read. Despite the subject matter, once I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down. I did so only because my grandchildren arrived and I opted to build memories with them.
On one page in the book, the author chronicles the moves he and his sister made with their single parent mother. She moved from place to place and relationship to relationship. Her life story might have been characterized as: “So many men, so little time.” But in the process, the price of admission to her children was beyond belief. On top of all of that were the drugs, the domestic violence cases, children’s services prying into their lives and his grandfather dying. From the third grade to the tenth, there were a list at least a dozen different men and as many moves.
He writes: “Today, even remembering that period long enough to write it down invokes an intense, indescribably anxiety in me. Not long ago, I noticed that a Facebook friend …was constantly changing boyfriends- going in and out of relationships, posting pictures of one guy one week and another three weeks later, fighting on social media with her new fling until the relationship publically imploded. She is my age with four children, and when she posted that she had finally found a man who would treat her well (a refrain I’d seen many times before), her thirteen-year-old daughter comments: ‘Just stop. I just want you and this to stop’. I wish I could hug that little girl, because I know how she feels. For seven long years, I just wanted it to stop. I didn’t care so much about the fighting, the screaming, or even the drugs. I just wanted a home and I wanted to stay there, and I wanted these ‘@%#@’ strangers to stay the ‘*#^@’ out”. (Note: actual quote modified to make it family friendly)
It is a powerful book. Despite the familial deficits, the unmet childhood needs, the chaotic home life, the abuse/neglect, the daily exposure to things that could break one’s spirit and create a culture of hopelessness, he managed to survive. He credits his move to live with his maternal grandmother at the end of his 10th grade year through high school graduation as a turning point for him. He lived with her and no one else.
The peace of her home gave him space to do his homework. The absence of fighting and instability was the catalyst for improving his ability to focus on school and his job. Living in the same house with the same person made it easier for him to form lasting friendships with people at school.
The flier of the book cover highlights the author: “J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.”
It is not an easy book to read. Yet the memories he shares from the personal perspective of someone robbed of the joys and security of childhood are thought provoking and heart wrenching. Sadly, if we had eyes of compassion to see, we could identify his story being duplicated in so many different ways. We have the power and wherewithal to make a difference.
All My Best!