The American Dream


How important is it to dream? If you’re going to dream, is it important to dream big? When I was a kid growing up, I was reminded often of the American Dream. I guess we all were. Wasn’t it the mantra that the baby boomer generation grew up believing?

“In his 1931 book, The Epic of America, James Adams defines the American Dream as the ‘dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement’”.

Adams’ definition of the American Dream was threatened with the outbreak of WWII. Subsequently, our father’s both went to war and came home from the war and promoted the concept of a better life for their children. After all, they had paid the price of admission. Wasn’t our nation known for being the home of the brave and the land of the free? Wasn’t the sky the limit? You could be all you chose to be. How did that line play itself out? Wasn’t it synonymous with the concept of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps?

From the vantage point of experience, most of us have discovered that is certainly easier to articulate than it is to implement. I guess it carries with it the connotation of getting out of a difficult situation by one’s own effort. Yet, realistically, how often does that actually happen?

Lilian, my twelve-year-old granddaughter is already thinking about the storyline that Wikipedia will use to describe her life. Of course, she has lot of years before her. Who knows how her interests and passion for living will ultimately define the person she eventually becomes. As for me, I don’t have enough time left to do anything significant enough to make it into Wikipedia. I’ve missed that window of opportunity unless I opt to do something extremely stupid. Consequently, I’d prefer to forego the experience. Who wants to live the notoriety of being remembered for press worthy bad behavior?

I guess from both a faith based perspective and social work viewpoint, I’m more of an advocate of the concept that “tomorrow doesn’t have to look like yesterday” than the need for one to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”. I’m not minimizing the importance of staying focused, working hard and investing the sweat equity to support our dreams, but most of us get where we are going through the encouragement, support and assistance of others. We live in community and it is through community that our needs most often get met.

I like the way Jeremiah expresses it: “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Yesterday I was at a work related function. The opening speaker was poised, articulate and confident. There was no mistaking it, she was passionate about working together in community to meet the needs of mothers and children from hard places. I have known the speaker for about three years and have always found her at the top of the leader board in terms of ability and passion to be a resource for helping single mothers and their children.

She began by sharing the story of a young mother in Chicago. Her husband had opted out of their marriage. He also abdicated from the responsibilities associated with fatherhood. The young mother felt overwhelmed and alone. This wasn’t what she signed on for when she said, “I Do.” For her, the American dream had become a never-ending nightmare. At that venture in her pilgrimage, she didn’t envision that her long-term outcome would ever be favorable.

Confused and alone, she really didn’t know where to turn. Fortunately her mother was sensitive to her daughter and grandson’s need for support. She provided them opportunity to live with her in her home.

In December of her first year as a young mother, something happened that forever changed her life. It was a bitterly cold December. I say that, although the speaker didn’t’ reference it directly, but I know it is true. Aren’t all Decembers in Chicago bitterly cold?

Perhaps the outside environmental conditions were a precursor for that which seemed bitterly cold and harsh. The daughter and her mother got into a misunderstanding. I don’t know the source of the conflict, the speaker didn’t say, but the mother demanded her daughter and her eleven month old grandson leave her home. They were thrown-out in the dead of winter.

Guess what? They had nowhere to go. It was cold, bitterly cold, in the streets of Chicago. Hearing the story that the speaker shared, sent a chill down my spine. Apparently a neighbor from close proximity had observed the young mother and her son being discharged from her mother’s home.

Identifying herself as Mama Walker, the older lady with kindness resonating through her voice said to the young mother, “Please come with me. I’ll get you and your baby to a warm place.” Confused by the offer, but grateful for the opportunity to get out of the cold, she followed Mama Walker to her home. Once inside the house, Mama Walker said to the young woman, “God has a plan and a purpose for your life. While you are in the process of finding it, my home is yours. You and your baby can stay with me”.

The speaker then said to the audience of about 300 people: “That young woman was me”. People need others and they need a sense of community in which to thrive. Consequently, that provides each of us the opportunity to be a source of encouragement and emotional support for others. It could represent a lifeline for them. It may not be enough to ensure your place or the mention of your name in Wikipedia, but it is more than enough to both fill your life with joy and that of someone else.

All My Best!