I’m probably not going to be a very popular person after people are done reading this, but I didn’t join the blogging community to really filter myself, so here it goes. The other day, I was walking with a friend after lunch to grab some dessert. A man who was dressed in a clean baseball jersey and jeans walked up to me and said, “Can I ask you a question?” I responded, “Sure.” He then asked, “Do you have any change you can spare?” I looked at him square in the face and said, “No.” He responded in an indignant tone, “Well why didn’t you say that in the first place?” When I responded that I had no idea he was going to ask me for change, he said, “Yeah, right.” This got me thinking, even if this guy wasn’t the biggest asshole on the planet, I wouldn’t have given him anything, and here’s why.
I grew up an only child of a pair of immigrants from South Korea. My whole life, I heard my father tell me that America was a great country of opportunity. That he was glad he came here even though his life and his wife’s had been anything but easy. Since the day they set foot in America, they had been looking for work or working, and at times, one job was not enough to make ends meet. By day, my mother and father worked at a carry out frying chicken and selling snacks in Baltimore, Maryland where I was born. By night, my father worked at a second job which ended in the wee hours of the morning. Rinse and repeat. That was the norm. I won’t even go into the other members of my extended family, but suffice it to say, it was a cozy if not impoverished lifestyle that afforded them very little free time.
When I was kid, my father, mother and I pulled up stakes and with the money they had scraped together, moved out to California. Painting, that was what my father started doing when he got here and no, we aren’t talking masterpieces here, unless you consider drywall a masterpiece. From there, he went about starting various businesses that ultimately all failed. My mother, God bless her, worked for over 20 years in banking. At some point during my high school career, my father decided business wasn’t for him and went back to school. He got his GED then started general education classes at a local community college. He wasn’t working during this time, but he was studying like a madman. I witnessed him transfer to a local university and become a registered nurse by literally memorizing textbooks since comprehending English wasn’t a strong suit for him. My mother? She supported us financially during these difficult years.
After graduating from school and passing his boards, something many American-born students find to be difficult, my father went to work immediately. Over the years that he practiced nursing he never had less than two places of employment. He worked the graveyard shifts at his main gig because he had more flexibility and then slept a couple hours and worked days elsewhere. He loved working holidays because he would get extra pay and my mother, well, she kept doing what she was doing.
How did they raise me? The best they could. I was left to my own devices from an early age. You can’t see your kid much when you’re working all the time. I remember though, that they would always take me on trips and make sure that we got some solid weekends in when I was younger. My mother had always felt the areas where we lived had horrible schooling so they made it a point to send me to private school all the way until I graduated from my alma mater, Loyola High School of Los Angeles. Single income family with two dependents basically and it was my mother who carried us on her shoulders.
Through slaving away collectively for the better part of a century, my parents had one message for me. America is an amazing land of opportunity. That hard work and diligence is always paid in spades here in relation to most places on earth. This coming from people that had worked themselves up from less than minimum wage gigs to a level of relative middle class success. I guess that’s why I get angry when I see bums on the street asking for change. Or people telling me that X group of people needs a handout because life isn’t fair.
I see people speaking the language, having two arms, and two legs getting angry at people not giving them change on the street and think to myself, what does this guy not have that my parents had? The answer is always the same. Will. The drive to better themselves. Not just dream. Everyone can do that. Shit, I think about winning the lottery every day, and I’m pretty damn good at imagining what I’d do with the money. I’m talking about grinding it out.
So don’t come up to me and tell me your sob story about how hard your life was. Everyone’s life is hard. Don’t come up to me and say you need some change. Newsflash: you don’t deserve it. Life is hard and the field isn’t always level. The mouse can’t complain when the falcon scoops it up and makes it lunch. That’s just the way of the world. You were dealt some shitty cards. So was my friend’s grandfather who had his fingers and toes blown off during the Korean War. So were the countless soldiers who saw their friends killed in battle. So was my father when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer and given 6 months to live when I was in college. There’s a guy out in the world right now (Nick Vujicic), he was born with no arms and no legs, think he got a royal flush? Of course, not, but he’s still doing big things. The list of people like this never ends. Everyone knows someone that has been shafted by life.
So what are you willing to do now? Because sitting there feeling sorry for yourself won’t pay the bills and while panhandling certainly can, it isn’t going to cut it anymore. I’m on to your schemes and the world will soon be too if this article is any indication. I’m not here to say that I don’t believe in social welfare or giving a helping hand to those that deserve it. I believe that unemployment benefits should exist. I believe that social security should exist. I believe we should help our veterans, but if you’re not going to put in the effort, I don’t think you should get a free ride. If you can’t and still just think someone should help you out for being you… Then find somewhere else to live that will and give the opportunity of being in America to someone more deserving. This country isn’t perfect, but no one said it would be. It is what you make of it.