Dear Young Americans,
Once upon a time, I was young like you. Like many of you, I lived in a bubble.
I lived in the same place all my life – in the Houston suburbs. I went to primary school with the same people I graduated high school with, and then onto college with some of the same folks.
We were not exceedingly wealthy, but every need was always met. My world was safe and familiar. And really homogeneous in makeup.
On September 11, 2001, I was a senior in college, receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. My college roommate and I were watching the television show Good Morning America when the first plane struck the Twin Towers in New York City.
Classes were cancelled. Sports were cancelled. We didn’t have internet access in our house, but we were glued to the television (yes, we had to pay for television the dinosaurs that we are now).
The fear of the world rained down so hard, my bubble of security was destroyed in one fail swoop. In an instant of cowardice, America’s prosperity and promised security – taken so much for granted – came crashing down so hard, it appeared as it the statue of liberty was crying herself.
The job offer I had lined up after graduation was withdrawn. The economy went into the crapper and millions of college students who were entering the workforce, like me, no longer had the security they were promised that went like this:
Make good grades. Get in to college. You’ll be guaranteed a job. You’ll be able to pay your bills.
Ha! It’s almost funny now. That’s not how it turned out. Obviously.
Being as flexible as I am, I threw out my college thesis I had been working on for some years and decided to focus on the rise of the internet as a new medium news source. I decided to move to Washington, DC and have a completely different experience after graduation.
My job in DC was to work in the mailroom of a United States Senator. This is the day when Anthrax- laced packages were being mailed to elected officials.
Every letter had to be tested for poison and then my job was to open them up and sort them out. Opening government mail then is today’s equivalent of shaking hands without being able to wash them. I did all this for free because no one could afford to hire anyone.
I got involved with what was going on in the world and learned about things I never heard of until my bubble was popped – for example, I learned about the Islamic religion for the first time. I had no idea anything outside of my bubble existed.
Eventually, eight months later after graduation from the University of Texas, I took the only job offer I had – as a newspaper reporter in a really small town in South Carolina, where people were not as privileged as I had been growing up.
I made eleven dollars per hour, and I could only afford rent in a low-income housing project near the newspaper building where I worked. In this building lived people with special needs, people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, and young disabled veterans.
My bubble burst, but I made lemonade. I got to know my neighbors in the housing project. I learned their stories. My eyes were wide open to understanding and knowing people who were not like me. Who did not look like me, talk like me, or grow up like me.
I learned what it meant to only have a few bucks in my pocket after a long workweek. Other reporters and I would go to happy hour on Fridays and get the one-dollar Pabst Blue Ribbon beer special. I could afford three tops and ate soup from a can most Friday nights. And I loved it. I was living outside my own bubble. It was an exciting time.
Eventually the economy rebounded, and people felt safe again. I got hired at a great newspaper back home in Texas, and my career was taking off, finally.
Sure, I returned to my bubble, but this time I had a new understanding of the world and how it works for people who have not had everything handed to them – as I had.
It’s an experience that shaped and molded me in the best way possible. It’s what you would call character building. It improved my writing, my empathy and understanding of a forgotten America, and it made me a better reporter, writer, and a better lobbyist when that became my job.
More than anything, it made me a better human.
The best part of living in America is not that we are resilient – and we so are – it’s the alchemy that occurs in this great country that when tragedy and crisis hit – regardless of who is in office or the political landscape – we don’t only address the problem, we create something entirely new from the experience.
Americans do not push tragedy away or sweep it under the rug. Instead, when we come down from the high of panic, loss and fear, Americans take whatever is handed to them, and we weave it into the fabric of our vastly diverse heterogeneous society.
That fabric is not monochrome. It is a coat of many colors.
Many young Americans are being affected by the massive shifts taking place in the world today. You get to choose what you want to focus on.
And I choose to see this disruption as a great character- building opportunity for future leaders.
I know from direct experience, having your bubble burst at such an age opens you up not only to being a more well-rounded person, but having a new depth from which to draw on as you make your way through this beautiful American life.
You got this!
As a former newspaper reporter and book writer, I love to capture moments in word form. I love my home, America, yet I fell head over heels in love with Mexico, too.