Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Everyone has a story.

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Some stories are longer than others. Some known and "read" by lots of people. Some more typical and less well-known.

Where a person's story begins usually makes quite a difference. Take my story for example. Mine started in this frame house that my parents bought in Spokane, Washington. Back in the late 1940s, this house was brand new and located in a very nice part of town.

When I came home from Sacred Heart Hospital in January 1950, it was to this house in this neighborhood.

My father had a good job with the County of Spokane. My mother was able to stay at home and care for me. I lived in this very comfortable house, in this very welcoming neighborhood for almost three years. My folks enjoyed friendships there that have lasted a lifetime.

When I was three, my parents moved back to Texas where their families lived. I asked my dad recently (he is still going strong at 86 and has been married to my mother for over 66 years!) why they left such a beautiful place to come back to the heat of Texas.

He replied that I was the cause for the move and the timing. He explained that they wanted to resettle before I began school and that they wanted me to be able to grow up around our extended family.

All are details of the beginning of my story.

I took the photo above about a month ago when I made it back to my place of beginnings. It was the first time I had been back in over 53 years.

The house was still in great shape. The giant pine tree that my dad planted in the front yard fifty-plus years ago must be over 100 feet tall today.

As I took it all in, it hit me again that my story, from the very beginning, has been one filled with opportunity, amazing privilege and great advantage.

I can claim no merit in my story's beginning.

It just happened to me. It was given, not earned or justified.

One thing I know for certain: not everyone is so fortunate.

It is extremely important for me to embrace my story and to recognize the truth of its various dimensions. It is essential for me to recognize that my great advantage has relatively little to do with my effort, hard work or personal decisions. As a matter of fact, much about all of those things flow out of my beginnings, and the way my world responds to people who start like me.

If the game of life is like a 100 yard dash, my starting line was at about the 85-90 yard marker.

What about your story?


RC said...

Larry, great post, and you bring up a constant struggle for me. This seems to be all about the extent of human responsibility. In many ways my story is like yours, but my folks were much poorer. I was the last of three kids and the shock of my parents life. My mother was almost 40 when I was born and my dad was almost 50. It was 1958 and my dad had just lost a good job at Ford in Memphis. The city refused to sell Ford a few acres of land to expand and so Ford just shut down the plant. About that time my mom found out she was pregnant so dad had to take a transfer to Loraine, OH. I was born in November in the middle of a blizzard. By the spring he moved us back to Memphis to a very small house earning a much smaller income, but he was such a good a decent man. I had the one thing that every child deserves. I had a mother and father that loved each other. I am not sure that poverty means that is not possible. I grew up with very little stuff, but with a lot of love and my home was always a place where I felt safe. I know that I am truly blessed and have so much that I do not deserve. I look forward to hearing other stories and hopefully someone will tackle the quesion of the extent to which we are responsible for our actions regardless of our background.

Anonymous said...

My folks were from Arkansas. My Mom was born and lived on top of a mountain and my Dad lived at the bottom. They met in the middle:) They married in their teens and went through the depression on top of the mountain. The schools were poor. My brother is a scientist and speaks all over the world. I graduated from Columbia University.My father did not send any of us to college because he couldn't afford it but we did have parents,grandparents and on back who had a work ethic and believed in America. In addition they loved their God and would not take kindly to the current Emergent crap.

Amy Boone said...

Love it. I think about this quite often. The problem is that you really can't change people's starting points in that 100 yard dash. I think about my own kids (9, 7 and 4) and how much of an advantage they have over so many kiddos. Maybe we just need to come up with ways to help those who start back on the 5 or 10 yard line how to run very fast and efficiently!

Larry James said...

In terms of the personal responsibility issue, my experience tells me that rather than looking at how others display or do not display personal responsibility, I need to take a careful look at how I manage my privilege.

Simply growing up "white" gave me great advantage, as it still does. Built in advantage is a tricky thing for us to admit and wrestle with.

Or, take the stability of one's family regardless of economics) as an asset that many other children simply aren't born into. We need to be careful using our experience and hard work as a tool or backdrop to judge others.

MommyHAM said...


I grew up as poor white trash. By that, I mean not only were we poor, but we had a family legacy of alcoholism, poverty, "using the system," violence, negligence, and more. Just as you can claim no merit for the beginning of your story, I can't claim anything for how mine is turning out - save for the transforming power of Christ Jesus.

While I was born into a pretty depraved family, God blessed me with "gifted intelligence," (which meant a whole lot more in my early days than it does now!) and I was a born achiever. The nature (genetics) and nurture (economics, social environs) that should have shaped me would have formed me into another of my family on the assembly line of desperation....but God made me different. And He blessed me with certain people, strategically placed at important junctures of my life.

Today, I'm a college grad. I'm happily married. I have two kiddos, of which Im more than 15-18 years older, as most of the females in my lineage were teen mothers - this is a milestone! We're homeowners. And, know what? I didn't make it all happen....heck, if it would've been up to me, I probably wouldn't sit where I do today, down in the trenches of public service work.

The Lord blesses us with our successes, even when we are not yet His - He's shaping us and preparing us all along the way.

I could go on....but it's after midnight, and I gotta work tomorrow ;-)

Anonymous said...

Larry, you often say that government must get involved, the private sector can't do it alone. While I agree, I would like to know what you think of the "war on poverty" of the sixties. I have heard it was a failure in spite of trillions of dollars spent.

Larry James said...

Anonymous 4:09 A.M., much of the criticism of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty is erroneous. To be sure, the effort was not perfect and their were failures and problems. But the fact is poverty declined markedly (down 19%) during the short lived effort. At the same time, a combination of LBJs Civil Rights legislation and the social policy he promoted helped fashion the context for the rise of a black middle class.

The real, often unrecognized reality is that the war in Vietnam terminated the war on poverty. Education, housing, health care, local economic development, and social uplift of various sorts did have a very positive impact on the economy at the bottom.

Ronald Reagan's "welfare Cadillac" mythology--admittedly a fabrication that has been acknowledged--lingers in the popular mind. But the fact is when government is active and engaged in battling poverty and the forces that sustain it, things do change. Any reputable, serious social or economic history of the period will substantiate this.