I was born into poverty, as an only child, raised by my single mother, no contact from my father. My mother was 18 when I was born, I have two uncles and two grandparents. A family of six. A household of two.
Because I was born poor, I attended public schools and ate lunch through free lunch programs financed by the state and federal assistance programs. In those lunch rooms, I met the other kids who were in the same program, typically Black or Mexican, and developed life long friendships with people of other races and religions. My mother believed education was important. She sacrificed what she could to help me, but considering we were so poor, there wasn’t much more she could do.
Because I was born poor, I learned the value of hard work, but more so I learned the value of smart work. I draw this distinction because my mother worked very hard her entire life. While I was in high school she had two jobs, one during the week and the other during the weekend. Seventy to eighty hours a week, yet she still lived paycheck to paycheck. I saw this and realized that working smart meant working hard at a job that you enjoy, but can also provide you an income that allows a life away from work, detached from the anxiety of poverty.
Because I was born poor, food could be scarce. Yet despite our poverty, my mother focused on providing me a nutritious diet. My mother made sure I ate fruits and vegetables through out my childhood.
Because I was born poor, we didn’t have nice things. We didn’t have a car till I was in second grade and we never owned one new. We had a black and white television most of my life, and never owned a large screen. Being born poor taught me humility and an appreciation for the things you do have.
Because I was born poor, I was rarely able to travel. My grandparents traveled, so on occasion they would invite me along. On trips to Ireland I saw the house my grand father lived in during a summer in his early childhood. I saw my grandmother’s old family homestead and met several distant relatives. My travels showed me that human life is diverse, vast and fascinating. I tasted new foods, heard different languages, and fell in love with the world and all its contents.
Because I was born poor, I was also born in debt. My childhood was paid for by my mother’s student loans. I absorbed the anxiety she felt living a life in debt, and used it as motivation to lead a life without. In college, I was able to pay for mostly everything by working. I worked smart by choosing jobs that paid well and were flexible enough to continue my studies. If not in school or studying, I would claim any available shift in order to save money and pay bills. During the five and a half years of college I took one loan to cover a semester’s tuition, the rest was paid for by work.
Because I was born poor, I realized the world was unequal and unfair. My mother was very good about putting our poverty in context, and would remind me that money was no indication of an individuals worth. She would teach me about poverty in other countries, illustrating how lucky I was to be born in America.
Because I was born poor, my friends were mostly all poor. Because most of my friends were poor, most of my friends had different a skin color than mine. Growing up with such diversity was a gift, allowing me to relate to people with backgrounds different than my own.
Because I was born poor, I learned the value of family. With such a small family, you quickly realize how rare it is to find someone who cares for you in the manner that only family does. Despite my small tribe, we’ve always been there to help, when help was needed. All families have good times and bad, but over the arch of my life I’ve seen an abundance of generosity, encouragement, love and caring.
Because I was born poor, I learned the value of independence. Taking the public bus alone to school at age 4, flying in planes by myself at the age of 7, solo train rides to see my grandparents, cooking myself dinner while my mother was in class, all taught me to develop my own opinion and a sense of independence. The solitude showed me its value, and it came from growing up in a small, poor family.
Because I was born poor, I was given a reason to succeed.
While the previous author manipulated the truth, and was not in fact rich, done so, perhaps to illustrate that wealth has many meanings, I did not misrepresent the truth. I was born poor, and lived my childhood as so many do, burdened by the faceless weight of poverty.
I realized many years ago, that wealth is not determined by money one earns or owns, numbers of cars garaged or vacations taken. My sense of wealth comes from such a cherished, special, unique life, and to share that life with so many wonderful, diverse friends. I feel blessed to be rich in opportunities to help others through charity. I feel rich because I am able to feel happy more times than not, and can share that happiness with those around me. But during those times when I’m not happy, I feel rich in the knowledge that my life is populated by those whom I love and in turn love me back.
This year I will earn an income that falls within the upper percentiles of earned income averages in America. I pay taxes in the highest brackets and I do not live paycheck to paycheck. I can afford to buy nice things, travel to far away places and my child will most likely not be born poor as I was.
Because I was born poor, it would be logical to assume I would have great pride in my financial successes. While I am proud of my achievements, the greatest sense of pride I feel does not originate from the accumulation of money or wealth. The sense of pride I feel, is that being born poor didn’t get the best of me. Being born poor taught me the lessons that prepared me for life. Being born poor gave me the skills and motivation to succeed, but most importantly, being born poor taught me to be rich with friends and family and always be generous when showing kindness, happiness and love. For those treasures, those blessings, truly are invaluable.
Perhaps instead, I was born rich, but needed to experience life to fully recognize why.