Another Thanksgiving holiday is on the way and the same question pops up every year. My answer is, the American Dream; no, not the success or the fruits of success, but the opportunity to succeed.
I am an immigrant from South Korea and came here at 16. I spoke very little English and my family had very few resources. But my parents had an unquestioning belief that the US was a land of opportunities and that their children would be given them. They knew that because even before coming to America, we met Mr. Karl Smith from Michigan who opened his heart to us, complete strangers, and showed what American generosity meant.
My two older brothers had helped an American businessman from being cheated by a cigarette vendor on the streets of Asuncion, Paraguay. The grateful man bought them a drink at his hotel bar and there introduced them to other Americans. One of them was Mr. Smith. He gave them his business card and said what many of us often say without really meaning it: “If you are ever in Detroit, look me up.” Soon, my oldest brother wrote him, asking for help to come to the US. To everyone’s surprise, Mr. Smith wrote back: “If you are accepted at a university in Detroit, you can come and live with us.” Six months later, my brother was accepted by Wayne State University and showed up at the Smith residence. A little later, my second brother did the same. Three years after first meeting Mr. Smith, my entire family was settled in Minneapolis. He did not give us money or find jobs for us; he gave us the opportunity to learn. We were strangers and yet he took us in.
There were others. Mr. Wright and Mrs. Plant, my high school English teachers, went out of their way to help me learn English. Mr. Beyma, a college recruiter, opened my eyes to possibilities beyond the present. My American Dream would have been just that, a mere pipe dream, had it not been for them. Some fifty years later, I am truly thankful to them.
American Dream is not free and it has conditions — fairness and paying forward.
Everyone, not just a few, should have the opportunity. We often begrudge that others are given an opportunity and cry “what about me?” We ignore the opportunities we ourselves have received — families that value education and hard work; a safe learning environment without fear of hunger and danger. These are opportunities we received, yet we ignore and forget.
Taking an opportunity and succeeding gives us an obligation to give to others that same opportunity, to pay forward. Luke 12:48 tells us “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.” That is paying forward, giving a helping hand to those who have fallen to get back up, and opening the door to the future.
This Thanksgiving and Christmas, will you join me in being truly thankful for the opportunities that we have been given, not just for the fruits of success? And look very hard for ways to pay forward so that others can also have the same opportunity?