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Guest Post; "An Accident of Birth"

An Accident of Birth

As the 4th of July approaches, the birthday of my country, I look around at my warm comfortable home and my bulging closets and cupboards, and I understand how I got here. Sure, I worked hard all my life, but it took more than that. It took an accident of birth.

First, I was born in the United States of America, a country without legal barriers to an individual’s efforts to succeed. Others will point to immigrants who have worked hard and succeeded. This is true. But what of the infants in Africa born with HIV? What of the millions born into such poverty that they never get beyond trying to feed their children? What of the millions who have never known peace, those maimed by landmines, tortured by oppressive regimes, victims of natural disasters beyond the scope of anything suffered by Americans? An accident of birth.

Next, I was born to loving parents who valued education and encouraged and assisted me to be whatever and whoever I wanted. Others will point to those who came from broken, bitter, even abusive homes and overcame these handicaps to succeed. This is true. These are also the exceptions. The more likely outcome is a broken individual who, never having experienced love or education, never having a model to teach the values that lead to success, repeats the sins perpetrated on him. Another accident of birth.

Next, and maybe most important of all, I was born with the tools I needed to succeed. An accident of birth gave me the intelligence that made me capable of earning the living that fills the closets and cupboards in my warm comfortable home. An accident of birth.

Until recently, I worked in a highly paid profession. I was surrounded by people who were paid even more. These were the people who told me that others are to blame for their own poverty. That they shouldn’t have children they can’t afford to feed. That they work too hard for their money for the government to take it and give it to the lazy and unmotivated. I say to them, “You are where you are due to an accident of birth. No amount of motivation and hard work can raise a low I.Q. to the level of yours. You should thank your lucky stars because that’s what it is — luck!”

How can anyone fail to see the millions of Americans who work in low-paying jobs all their lives, who struggle to provide for their families, who teach their children strong moral values, yet will never have the advantages I have, will never be able to give their children the head start in life that my son enjoys, who can’t even afford health insurance and must worry over every cough or fever. What makes these people less deserving than me? An accident of birth?

When I think about what America means to me, I am grateful for all of the blessings this country has bestowed on me. But I am also aware of the disparity that exists, both here and abroad. I want to think of America as a model to the world. I want to think of it as the country that welcomed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. I want to think of it, not just as a land of opportunity, but as a compassionate country that takes care of its citizens who can’t care for themselves. I want to think of it as a nation that helps other countries, less fortunate, reap the rewards of prosperity and freedom.

When I think about what America means to me, I don’t always see the country I want to see. I see a country held in less esteem by the rest of the world with each passing year. I see a country less welcoming to the kind of people who built America, who gave up everything to join our melting pot -- our own ancestors. I see a country of incredible wealth that can’t manage to put food on every table, that lets its own citizens die for lack of healthcare.

There are those who believe that to criticize this country is to be unpatriotic. I believe the opposite. The only way to make America the country I want it to be is to recognize its faults and to correct them. The fortunate among us have a moral obligation to share our good fortune. It is a small price to pay for the accidents of birth that made us successful Americans.

Happy Birthday America

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