Two Paradigms of Social Service

He had a multi-acre estate with a view of the Catskills. His property was dotted with storybook sculptures, bridges, park scenes and what might have been a bathhouse. My friend and her parents had invited me to their cousin’s house to celebrate “Thanksgivukah.” They told me that this cousin used to be the executive of what was once the largest hedge fund in the world. When the host’s gates opened, I indulged myself by leaning over to my friend and whispering “Gatsby.” This man, however, was no tragic figure. His family was beautiful, he served fine wine. After dinner, he asked me about my time at Princeton. I explained to him my goals, how I hoped to use my writing in conjunction with urban redevelopment initiatives. Frankly, I felt silly describing my dreams to a man who had already realized his own. Later, as we were leaving the house, the man told his relatives to “Remember his name.” He was talking about me.

That night, I asked my friend how she would change the world. She said she would probably help people in a foreign country. When, I asked her why, she explained that her position of privilege encouraged her to pursue a career that would allow her to prevent issues from arising rather than reacting to an already poor condition. Her socio-economic environment had granted her professional and educational opportunities that would allow her to engage in “forward thinking.” She believed her upbringing made it easier to improve an already stable state, whereas someone like me—a kid from Detroit who lived among financially struggling people—might feel obligated to repair a damaged infrastructure, to “look back,” if you will. Detroit was the home I knew, and it was collapsing. And here I was receiving encouragement from a model of the American Dream. Maybe it meant nothing. But it was nice to be reminded that even a paradigm of wealth could find value in my own aspirations. I doubt I’ll ever achieve such affluence. Still, it’s good to know that I won’t need it. I have the dream, and I have the home. Now if only I could find some time to make them work together.

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