When my wife and I first got married, she discovered a strange quirk of mine. Truth be known she puts up with a bundle of my strange neuroses, quirks and idiosyncrasies anyway, but for whatever reason she found this one particularly weird.
What was it? Well, when we were driving somewhere or taking a walk or traveling, I would occasionally point out to her appealing places we might live if we were ever homeless — a nice underpass, a particularly cozy abandoned house, a warm steam grate, a clean, dry nook in a subway tunnel.
Now, if you were in my wife’s shoes, this would no doubt set off very loud clanging warning bells and huge red flags. Here she is thinking that she married an up-and-comer, someone who can provide for a family, offer security, hearth and home, and I’m looking around for places to live when we’re homeless. Most newlyweds start looking for quaint neighborhoods and cozy starter homes to settle down and raise a family. I was looking in the opposite direction.
Looking back on it now, I probably should have just made a mental note of nice homeless spots without pointing them out to my new bride. And while I was always half-joking in my weird homeless preparations, the truth is that having a good understanding of my surroundings, mentally preparing for the unexpected, and having the confidence that no matter what situation life threw at me, I could persevere, alwasy gave me peace of mind.
The biggest irony of all of this is that I tend to be a glass half-full kind of guy. I’ve always been ready and willing to take risks, try new things and launch headfirst into crazy ventures precisely because I believe that even if I fail utterly and completely, there will at the very least be a nice underpass somewhere where I can regroup.
My intention here is not to make light of homelessness, and the truth is that while I like to think I could persevere, I’ve fortunately never been tested to that extreme. No one can even begin to understand the mental and physical hardships of living on the street.
I was reminded of all of this because of an amazing segment I saw on 60 Minutes over the weekend. Scott Pelley interviewed families and children who have been particularly hard hit by the U.S. economic collapse. The segment is devastating and horribly sad: More than 16 million children in the U.S. now living in poverty, with many reduced to living in cars. How could this ever happen in America?
But on another level, I found the 60 Minutes piece strangely uplifting because what it also demonstrated to me is that the human capacity for perseverance is simply extraordinary.
Watch the clip below for yourself and see if you agree. The families highlighted didn’t get a bailout. They don’t seem angry (although they have every right to be). The parents aren’t lazy, drug addicts or mentally unstable. They aren’t neglecting their children.
In fact, exactly the opposite… They could be your next-door neighbors.
The Metzger family lives in a utility truck. The father, Tom, is a carpenter who’s been looking for work ever since Florida’s construction industry cratered. Asked about what it’s like living in a truck, daughter Arielle, 15, and her brother Austin, 13 replied, “it’s an adventure.”
Asked whether it’s embarrassing when kids at school realize she lives in a truck, Arielle replies, “Yeah, it’s not really that much of an embarrassment. I mean it’s only life. You do what you need to do right?”
Let that sink in for a minute and ask yourself whether you would have the mental toughness, self-reliance and resiliency of these kids if you were in a similar situation.
Like the Metzger’s, the Coates family also live in their car. They moved from Washington DC to Florida just as the jobs dried up. D’Angelo Coates sits on a cooler in a parking lot each night, all night, watching over his family as they sleep in their car.
If you want to see resilient families, the Metzger’s and Coates’ are it. While those with the soft, manicured hands and Nantucket country estates cratered the nation’s economy, received hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailouts, and then paid themselves record bonuses, the Metzger’s and Coates’ live in the shadows persevering in incredibly difficult circumstances.
Now ask yourself this: Who would you rather hire to work for your business? Who would you rather have as your neighbor when times get tough? Who would you rather have in your community? In other words, who would you want in the trenches with you? Families like the Metzgers and Coates’s who demonstrate the super-human intestinal fortitude and personal character to soldier on in incredibly difficult circumstances? Or the soft Wall Street banksters who criminally brought the economy to its knees and then demanded that taxpayers like the Metzgers and Coates’s bail them out?
To me, that one’s a no brainer.