You walk into a supermarket and are able to choose from countless types of perfectly ripe fruit. You don’t have to spend hours planting and harvesting the fruit, rather you can eat it at your convenience.
If you are angry about local politics, you can write a letter or hold a protest without fear of being shot or detained if your ideas don’t agree with your government.
If you get in a car accident, you can go to the hospital and receive medical attention immediately. You don’t have to walk 10 hours to the nearest clinic, only to discover that the doctor is on strike and there are no medical supplies.
You can drink the water from your sink without having to boil it or worrying about it spreading illness. In fact, you have enough water to bathe every day, water your grass, fill your pool and even have a water balloon fight. It seems like everything is perfect.
Yet, we’re used to complaining about America, griping about how we don’t have enough and how our neighbor has a faster car or a bigger house. Despite all the wonderful things that we do have, we instead choose to focus our attention on what we still want. One of the fundamental reasons why Americans are so successful is because we are always seeking to attain more, but sometimes we drastically underestimate the vast opportunity and fortune in having our homes, families and freedoms.
I’m not saying we should merely reflect momentarily on how lucky we are, but rather this is something we should really think about. Forget about that Z3 or that iPod that you want and instead focus on the beautiful freedoms you have in front of you.
I spent this summer in Honduras living with a family that had dirt floors, a contaminated water supply and no electricity. They ate only corn tortillas, beans and rice and didn’t ever think about owning a bike… let alone a BMW. One day while I was talking with my host father, he asked me about America. He had heard about the universities, the fast food restaurants and the job opportunities, and he wanted to know more. He wanted to know about the freedoms and choices that we, as Americans, had.
He had only heard bits and pieces, but it was clear he thought of America as a beacon of freedom and a place where he desperately wanted to live. He didn’t care that he would be a minority, away from his familiar culture and relatives. He knew that if he made it to America, he would be able to build a life that would give his family and children the chance to attain the many freedoms of our nation.
As he began speaking, I felt goose bumps begin to rise on my arms, and I realized that the same freedoms and choices that I take for granted every day were the liberties and ideals that he would eagerly have fought for. But because of his economic situation, these are also the freedoms that he will most likely never know.
Many of his relatives and friends had paid an exorbitant amount of money to cross the border illegally just so they could experience a new kind of freedom. Yet, after only a few weeks, many had been deported. They had returned to their village with the visions of America vividly haunting their dreams and the feeling of freedom still arousing their senses.
I do not intend to make you feel guilty for everything you have in America. I am writing this because it is important to realize and appreciate every wonderful opportunity that you are given. Just for one second, stop complaining about how terrible our country’s economic situation is, how you hate the food on Duke’s campus and how Durham is a terribly boring city.
You are a college student with a variety of amazing opportunities and chances to explore the world. The food that you complain about every day would make a gourmet meal for my Honduran family. The job opportunities and free market that our economy supports are things that people hold revolutions and risk their lives for. Although we have become accustomed to our lifestyle, that doesn’t mean that we should take it for granted.
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Yes, it’s true that America is the land of opportunity, the land where all things are possible. We’re a country where people can dream big dreams and if we they try hard enough, we can accomplish them. We’re a country that values equal opportunity and the importance of basic human rights. But sadly, we’re also a country that often forgets just how lucky we are to have such good fortune.
Anne Katharine Wales is a Trinity junior.