As Above, so Below

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“The grass is always greener” they say. It could always be better; it could always be worse. I have broken bread with those whom truly appreciated the bread, and I’ve broken it with those who dip it in oil while waiting for their 5 star meal. You know what I’ve learned? They envy each other.

Growing up, I’ve lived exclusively among the needy. We were one of them. I never noticed what we didn’t have beyond the material things the boys in school would show off. I knew I didn’t have the newest, name brand sneakers. I knew that my clothes were often my brother’s hand-me-downs. These things I noticed, but I don’t recall feeling sad about it, just aware. However, I didn’t notice the lack of food options in the house, or that it was cereal for dinner again. I didn’t notice the  electricity being shut off again. We just found ways of entertaining ourselves. My mom kept her sense of humor through it all. I remember laughing a lot. My brother and I would rough house, and my neighborhood friends would be bragging about whose electricity had been shut off the longest. We wore our misfortunes like a badge of honor, and somebody always had it worse. We didn’t feel bad for them, we’d tease each other, and we’d all end in laughter.

After the ball busting, we would all take care of each other. That usually meant by sharing our candy or cupcakes. Junk food was easier to come by, but the point is, we were a community. Friendships don’t get much deeper than the ones made in poverty.

We’d all dream of what it would be like to be rich. The younger we were, the sillier the expenses we’d want. Mansions full of candy and toys eventually became mansions full of women and booze. You know what didn’t change though? We always said that we’d take care of our mothers and get them out of the projects. We’d promise to bring our friends to the good life with us because a life without them wasn’t worth the money. When I was in my teens, I began imagining the good I could do with all that money. The mansion dream faded, and I just wanted a house. The multiple cars became one car, maybe a second truck for the winter. The women became woman. A good one that loved me before the money. And the leftover money became ideas to help other families living in poverty escape. Whether it was supplementing their income to a livable salary. Or investing in business ideas of people in the hood that couldn’t get a bank loan, or didn’t believe in themselves enough to try. Idea after idea of creating a system of communities helping each other.

When I got out of poverty, and into the mythical middle class, I met a new host of people. Some had parents that were ri-ri-riiiich. I could put on my cleanest clothes and speak with proper grammar to blend in, but of course they’d somehow know I wasn’t really one of them. Nevertheless, I was generally met with kindness, faux or not. You know what many rich people talk about? The poor. The conversation spans from feeling sorry for us, to blaming us for our own self-sabotage, and eventually, when the wine and champagne kicked in and the emotions rose to the surface, some would mention what they envy about us. That unbreakable bond; honor amongst thieves; our unwavering loyalty to each other. The rich don’t have that security. Everyone they know wants a piece of their money and they’d stab em’ in the back in a second to get it. I’ve even heard someone say they’d sometimes dream of giving it all away and living a modest life, someplace quiet (because even in this rich person’s ‘poor fantasy’ they wouldn’t live in the hood).

This whole time, we have been dreaming of riches, and they have been dreaming of the qualities most found in the poor. I don’t think I would ever want to have been born into a rich family. I struggled my whole life, but I love the person I am because of it. I care about the well being of others. I may not always be the most social guy, but if your house is on fire and I’m walking by, I’ll run in there without hesitation to make sure you’re okay (true story).

If I were born rich, I would probably have the mentality of “This is mine and i’ll protect it with everything I’ve got.” Never trusting my neighbors, or living in constant competition with them. It might sound like a trivial problem to have, and to the ‘have-nots’ it is down right absurd. But “First world problems” are still problems to those who experience them. If you don’t know any other life, then your wifi being down and having to explain to your ‘friend’ who is coming over that your internet is out, knowing they’ll tell their parents who will judge your parents, is an anxiety attack that I wouldn’t want to deal with.

Poor folk, ever wonder why the rich kids in school invite you over? Why they like your music and imitate your lifestyle? It’s exciting to them. Your normal life, that you don’t notice anything special about, is exotic and dangerous to them. They envy you, but wouldn’t really switch places. It’s like playing Call of Duty. You want the Iraq experience without having to actually go. It’s mutual though right? You want to go hang out at their house, play the newest game, eat good food, and sit on comfortable furniture. You envy them, but when you meet their parents, or find out that they don’t even speak to their parents, you wouldn’t trade places with them either. Both sides have the Yin to the others Yang.

The key is, be born poor, get rich, live modestly, and give back. Easier said than done!

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