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As a child, when I came home from school with a bad grade, I tried to explain it away by saying that a lot of kids got an even worse grade. My mother would explode with indignation. “I don’t care what someone else does. I care about what you do. You are capable of doing far better. You simply don’t apply yourself.” Of course this infuriated me. How did she know how hard I had tried? How did she know what I was capable of? Off I’d go to lick my wounds and pout about how tough I had it in my tragic world.

But even then I knew that as bad as things might be, as angry as I may get, as demeaned as I might feel, there were plenty of other people who had it a lot worse than I did. People without enough food to eat, or without parents, or without a bed to sleep in or with a leaky roof over their heads.

Eventually I crawled out of my tragic-stricken inner sanctum. I learned how to study. I learned how to get good grades, even if I didn’t really get the course material—I could always fall back on a rich, inherited vocabulary and grammar to fake my way into a decent grade, except with math of course. I easily graduated from high school, and thanks to the music lessons my mother had paid dearly for, I was handed a scholarship for college. After two years of that I recognized that I was headed down the wrong path. I fell into a job that suited me far better and that, while not easy, was dependable and paid reasonably well. The job had benefits! I stumbled in and out of marriage, built up personal credit, bought property, lived independently. I’ve been so utterly lucky.

My luck began at conception. I was born cisgender with white skin. I may have been the product of a failed marriage, but I was born into a middle-class family of educated and well-traveled European immigrant Americans. I am not exceptional. I am blessed with average intelligence and a strong, healthy body. I learned from those around me how to work. Outside of the usual playground taunts, I was never called a derogatory name nor had a door or opportunity closed to me. I had a little difficulty buying my first house because women were still supposed to be attached to a male at that time. But there again, I had a mother to fall back on. She provided the extra cash I needed to buy my way over that obstacle. I was able to purchase a home where I wanted, within walking distance of my job. I’d never even heard of redlining. The worst property damage I’ve incurred was having a rock thrown through the window of my car by someone who disapproved of my bumper sticker and having a politically oriented sign stolen from my front yard. Oh yeah, once my car was broken into and the radio stolen, but I had insurance and I still had a car to drive.

Many Americans have had it just about as lucky as I have. Sure, we all face a hurdle now and then, but how we start out life usually portends the path ahead. However, some folks are born into a very different world with a fragile family, unstable economic situation, lack of early supervision and coaching, and poor nutrition; these people must work a lot harder to obtain the level of comfort I enjoy.

My comfortable life was made possible by the sacrifices of my ancestors and those of previous generations of Americans. What are the special gifts you inherited that helped you land where you are today? OR, what where the special hurdles that you had to navigate to get where you are now?