“In a way he was like the country he lived in, everything came too easily to him, but at least he knew it.”
Hubble Gardner, a fictitious college student played by the deliciously, dreamy actor, Robert Redford (yes I am that old) penned this line in the 1973 award-winning film “The Way We Were”. Redford and actress Barbra Streisand headlined the cinematic tearjerker set in the 40s and 50s, delighting in and anguishing over the doomed relationship between the popular, golden boy, Hubble and Streisand’s character, Katie Morosky, a left-leaning, social crusading, Jewish girl.
I saw this movie in college and, I am not quite sure why, but, that particular quotation has stuck with me to this day. Back up. That’s a lie. I do know why the line has stuck. The line has remained with me because I totally identify with Hubble’s character. I did then and I do now.
Everything has come too easily for me. My life has not been one of struggle or hardship. Those sacrifices were made by the immigrant generations that strained their backs paving my way. I had a storybook childhood, born in a small town with good parents and surrounded by good people. You know the kind, “salt of the earth”, may I even dare say some “Andy of Mayberry” types. I was blessed then without realizing it. I was born into a country of promise. I was smart enough, athletic enough, popular enough, attractive enough, and dare I say, white enough to get by without too much effort. I worked, but many others worked harder and with much less reward or recognition. I guess one could say that my climb began half way up the ladder. As years passed, blessings kept on coming through college, law school, marriage, parenthood and several truly rewarding careers. I cannot erase any of this. It’s me. It’s what I have been given. I used to feel guilty about it, but that in itself is self-indulgent and doesn’t help anyone. (Remind me to write about the time I attended a diversity conference and because I am an “easy crier” managed to maneuver several black women into comforting me. Definitely, not my finest moment, but that’s for another time.)
I have never had to personally fight for social equity, or for food, or an education. I am not the struggling, immigrant father trying to support his family while staying up nights to complete my GED. I am not the terrified mother of that young black man with his hands held high. I am not the hard-working and dedicated cop on the beat risking my life selflessly every day. I am not a skittle. I am not a rapist. I am not a deplorable. I am not any of these people. I am one of the lucky ones.
And so, I must look around. I must be informed. I must have compassion in my heart. I must not take my privilege for granted. I must vote for leaders who also know that things have come too easily for them and who appreciate their duty to keep repaving that road for others. I must do all of this because like the country I live in, everything has come too easily for me and, at least I know it.
It’s not about the way we were, guys. It’s about the choice of who we will be from now on.