Path To the Left - Vol 1

I've recently been asked by a few friends and colleagues, "What led to your unwavering support for the causes of the left?" At the outset, I honestly didn't have a succinct answer. I said something about my communal outlook on life and my interest in helping those less fortunate. I know, pretty facile.

Over the past few weeks I started to think about this question more. With the 08 election a mere two months away, I can't say that I've ever felt this passionately about a political race. When I hear that McCain has crept up on Obama or even surpassed him, my stomach literally spins in cycles. There have been countless times over the past few weeks where I burn out on election coverage. Not because I don't care, but because I care too much. At my deepest core, I can not fathom a McCain victory. As my girlfriend said to me this morning, "If McCain wins, I really fear that you'll be inconsolable." She may be right.

But what brought me here? For some odd reason, one seemingly forgettable event in my childhood keeps coming to the surface. But first, a little background. My parents divorced when I was only four years old. Following their separation, my father's career began to blossom, yet we heard very little from him, and my mother worked as a crossing guard to support my brother and I. We lived in a two-family house in the upper-class town of Allendale, New Jersey. Despite our location, we weren't part of the elite, far from it. My father paid the absolute minimum in child support, and my mother struggled to put food on our table. I can vividly recall trips to the grocery store and the front of the shopping cart loaded high with coupon after coupon. If something wasn't on sale, my mom wasn't buying it.

I ended up going to school in Allendale, surrounded by kids raised in middle to upper class families. When my friends were picked up after school, they usually jumped into a cozy BMW or Mercedes, while I walked the few blocks to my home. By this time, my mother had married a police officer in the town. We moved into his quaint home and we all began to build a life together. But we still scraped by.

As it turns out, my closest friend growing up (and still a close friend), was certainly part of the elite. The son of a well-respected lawyer, we did just about everything together, but there was always an unspoken rift given our family's vastly different economic situations. And this led to that memory that keeps returning. On a weekend trip to the mall, my friend's mother wanted to take him shopping for new clothes at the Polo Shop. I clearly recall feeling anxiety at the mere mention of this store. I never felt at home at such places and always felt a bit of shame upon entering. As we stepped inside the store, my buddy immediately went from rack to rack grabbing at shirts, pants and other highly-priced items. The two men working immediately moved over to assist, and I will never forget the one man passing by my side and giving a surly look. Perhaps it was my ragged clothes or maybe he was just being a jackass, but I will never forget the feeling that it planted in my gut. I knew that I didn't belong in a place like this, and this man's one-second glance stapled that belief in me and I never let it go.

As the years moved on, I always had a great sense of unease around the wealthy. This was especially the case when my father's career took off, and on our occasional visits, we'd once again be forced amongst the elite. And then I'd return to school, and I'd be standing amongst the same. But every day that I returned home, I walked into a world that had little or nothing to do with lives of those well-off.

I saw my mother struggle to raise us. I saw her sweat on a streetcorner as she walked children from one side to the other. I saw her scrape change from her Pinto console. But in the end, these experiences shaped who I am now. And these experiences gave me a view into what it's like to struggle day in and day out. It's created an empathy in me for others who don't have that financial cushion. See, many of my friends from grammar and high school, did have it pretty easy. Their parents sent them to the best schools, they paid their Manhattan or Boston rents upon graduation and they landed in cushy, yet dull, jobs; and in many ways, turned out just like their folks.

But this was never me. And it never will be me. I can't sit by day after day and focus solely on my path. I see people around me and I know that many of them are far worse off than I ever was. There are single mothers trying to feed their children. There are people forced to let a chronic illness get worse due to their inability to pay insanely high medical bills. There are teenagers heading off to war because it's their only window to a better life. I see people discriminated against because of race or sexual identity, and can't imagine the pain that this brings on.

All of these people should matter to us all. Yes, we are all responsible for ourselves and we shouldn't expect assistance from anyone, but we can all do our best to help. Through my set of eyes, it's the way things should be. And it's why I've landed here.

I plan on posting more examples leading up to the election