Adversity happens. Merriam-Webster defines it simply as, ‘a difficult situation or condition : misfortune or tragedy’. The ‘adversity’ might be due to substance abuse, domestic violence, loss of job, mental or behavioral health disorder, legal misfortune, crime, accident, famine, war, illness, or a series of unfortunate incidents which might even result in homelessness and trauma. The cause could be genetic, biological, economic, social, environmental, or completely random. You don’t have to look very far into any one’s now-story, or past to find extensive histories of ancestors who endured incredible adversity to overcome and ultimately thrive- not always, but to arrive at a place of ‘Ok’.
Sometimes, ‘recovery’ is arrival at a state of awareness and coping, managing an illness, or even the restoration of a healthy, and healed spirit- in spite of what cards life has dealt. The Free Dictionary calls recovery ‘the act, process, duration, or an instance of recovering.’ Defined as ‘not instant easy street forever’, but a better place, and state of mind. What is your ‘right now’ story? What is your bigger, longer term story? How has it shaped you? What is the beginning like; and where are you today- on a timeline? What are the difficult spots and the successes (objectively)? Looking at your history in a broader sense, can you identify the overcoming parts? What could the next chapter be like? (And in your dreams.) It goes beyond words, which are always imperfect descriptions.
According to Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Census Data, more than 12 percent of people in the United States—almost 42 million—are between the ages of 10 and 19. The OAH, Office of Adolescent Health reports, “Nearly one in five adolescents lives in poverty. Poverty rates are highest among youth growing up in single-parent households. Growing up in poverty significantly affects adolescent health and is linked to poorer school performance.” Also, “Adolescents are generally healthy, but still have issues with physical and mental health. More than one in three adolescents are considered overweight or obese, 31 percent have at least one chronic condition (such as asthma, diabetes, or autism), and 30 percent of teens report having symptoms of depression in the last year.” See http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/Adolescent-Health
But this news isn’t new! There is a photo from 1924 taken at The Salvation Army. The adult man in the photo was a Chaplin. The little blond boy in the picture lived for a time in the city of Philadelphia. He was there with his grandmother who was very poor, and his sisters -the only children in the photo who were not of another nationality. At the time the picture was taken, the family lived in a very poor section of Philly. Whenever the rent was due, the family had to move. The “family” then included the little boy along with his 2 brothers and 2 sisters. He was always grateful to The Salvation Army as they fed his family while they lived in Philadelphia. Later, he could never eat peanut butter or sugar donuts as they were a big part of the menu. His grandmother was very religious, a good piano player, and played the piano during the church services. [She was seated at the piano and did not appear in the photo.] The children are well-dressed. Due to his small stature he was bullied and ridiculed, even later in life. The little boy had to leave school to make a living, but later went on to own a successful business and eventually become a millionaire. His brother fought in WWII and earned medals but was killed in action, fighting against Fascism. A notable thing about the boy was his sense of wonder at nature and science. He loved reading and discovering new facts, and traveling. Toward the end of his life said he could only imagine some of the wonderful inventions that were to come.
Then, there was the story of a 12 year old girl and her 9 year old sister who were sent to America from Ireland with only one suitcase each. They were put put on a ship, with a one-way ticket, alone- to be raised by nuns in upstate New York. They did not recall anything of their past (amnesia) except a beautiful woman weeping as she said goodbye at the dock, and two boys who remained behind- brothers? Cousins? They were to have gone to France, but there was a scarlet fever outbreak, so America was chosen instead. On the ship, they had a cabin on one of the upper decks, and ‘steerage class’ Irish crammed on the lower levels remarked about their lace-trimmed petticoats. They were met at the ship and whisked away in a car. It is thought their parents died, but the trail of information ran cold. Later, as the girls prepared to leave and make their way in the working world of the time, a man had come looking for them in a nice car, but was sent away. The girls played harp and piano and were well educated. One became a suffragette and marched for women to have the right to vote. She drove her own car. Both married men who built America’s highways and bridges, as they worked together to raise the next generation.
Researching ocean-going ship manifests, one is struck by the overwhelming number of children and adolescents and very young adults traveling to America from many, many countries around the world, including those brought here against their will in the slave trade, trafficked as property. The story of Native Americans is equally tragic.
It is an inescapable fact: America was built upon overcoming exceptional adversity, with incredible fortitude, and hope.
[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain, author Brown Brothers, Records of the Public Health Service US Government Archives 1908. Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York. Post written by P. A. Rodemann]