Monday, February 13, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

“It's your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”
~ Rumi

Having heard Mr. Vance speak at Monmouth College in December, we were prompted to read the entire book.  It is mainly a deeper elaboration of his talk, but it does reinforce the obstacles he faced several fold.  Over and over each chapter spins the story of poverty, constant exposure to violent behavior, a revolving door of parents and step-parents, and all too prevalent alcohol and drugs. How he not only got to Yale law school and then succeeded there is a compelling and miraculous story.        

How many of these heroes like Vance are out there?  That is the big question.  Many face the obstacles; few clearly can surmount them. Unfortunately the proof of this point is that many if not most of his friends and relatives remain back there in the “holler”  and not on the gravy train 

How did Vance do it?  Where did his desire to get out finally break the pattern of no jobs, mediocre schools, failed rehab and social programs, etc.?   The answer appears to be you have to have at least one person above you in the hole who will hold the lifeline for you and keep you from slipping to the bottom.  For him it was a grandmother,  a sister, and then a loving wife.  They kept him in the game until he found the personal courage to break the chain and get out to the Marines where he found discipline, faith in himself, and the knowledge that he could function as a leader not a victim.  The challenges continued after his military service. It was a fight to get a college degree and then into law school.  Poverty stalks him at each turn.  

Ultimately, he seemed to say in his lecture and in the book that the first and most important step is the decision that you must change yourself to get out of the downward spiral. You must admit to yourself that the world you have grown up in is not the one you are going to acquiesce to.  Grandma, your sister, the schools, the military, or the government will not do it for you.  

What can I say? The book has once again made me realize that coming from an intact two parent family who never lost a job and who never had addiction issues and who never in my memory screamed and hollered at me or each other was a blessing that has not been appreciated enough.


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