There’s been a lot of talk lately about the word “privilege.” It’s the idea that one group of people, through no fault or doing of their own, has been dealt a better hand in life than other groups. And because of those purportedly winning cards, they are able to sail through life more easily and achieve things more readily than everyone else. I will agree that privilege does exist. Just not in the way we hear angry protestors or a biased media tell us it does.
Funny thing, privilege. You don’t really know you allegedly have it until someone points a finger at you and demands that you make amends for it.
I’ll admit that I’ve experienced my share of privilege in life. I know I’ll leave out much of the nuance and flavor of my individual experience now that I’m trying to chronicle it, but this is what the word privilege means to me.
I had the privilege of growing up in Southern California in the mid-’70s. Beautiful place, Calabasas. We moved from Chicago where my parents had met (Northwestern grads) so my dad could take a job selling insurance for Lincoln National Life. I wouldn’t know this until about 40 years later, but we had the privilege of Dad getting fired from that job six months after he’d moved us out West. My mom never let on about what must have been an incredibly worrisome time in our lives. With a stay-home wife, two young daughters and an impressive mortgage, Dad got up at the crack of dawn, shaved, got dressed in his suit and tie and went to what I believed, as a 5-year-old, was his office. He was really going to the library to research job leads. (Nearly 50 years later, Dad is retiring at the end of this month a self-made man. It’s amazing how a stinging slap to the face can give you the privilege of a go-getter’s mentality.)
I had the privilege of growing up with two parents who loved each other. Check that. My parents adored each other. Still do. Fifty-four years, two daughters and seven grandsons later. My older sister and I had the privilege of watching them look at each other and speak a secret language they didn’t think we could decode. But we could. Mom jumped to her feet every night when the garage door went up and raced to the door to greet Dad with a hug and kiss. I can still see her on her tip toes, arms around his neck. Every Tuesday like clockwork Dad would come home with a “surprise” armful of flowers. She’d giddily take them to the kitchen to arrange in a vase while Dad loosened his tie and told her all about his day. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how privileged I was to grow up with parents who loved each other so fiercely and always had each other’s six.
I was privileged to grow up learning what it meant to volunteer. Both of my parents were and are amazing givers. They exposed me to the need that exists all around us. I was privileged to fall in love with volunteering at a summer camp for mentally and physically challenged kids. I didn’t know it at the time but the campers I became friends with those six summers taught me more about life and love than I ever would have learned on my own. I was privileged at a young age to learn that the joy of giving far exceeds any delight in receiving.
I was privileged to find my husband, Joe. It’s no sexy story, but I knew it when I saw him. Joe was in his fourth year of medical school at St. Louis University, and I was two years into my contract with NBC. He walked into M.P. O’Reilly’s bar to shoot pool with his brother Jim, and that was it for me. We were engaged six months later and married a year after that. I’ve been beyond privileged to build a remarkable life with my best friend. My biggest fan. My greatest advocate. I can’t tell you how ridiculously privileged loving him has made me.
I’ve been privileged to have and help raise five handsome sons. Michael, Jack, Ryan, Chris and Bobby are my greatest triumphs. Each is an individual example of my love for my husband. None of our boys is disabled. None has a learning deficit. And yes, each is privileged. They are growing up in a family that supports them, believes in them, and encourages them to endlessly dream. I admit, however, that the word privilege means something different to them than it means to me. “Why do we have to be altar boys, Mom?” I can still hear them groan. My answer was simple. “You have the privilege of attending a Catholic school, and so you will give back to the parish and its people by serving the church.” Despite their eye rolls and exasperation, each now understands the nuances of the Catholic Mass and what it means to stand next to a priest during Communion. They’ve served weddings and funerals and have watched other families during times of great celebration and pain. That has been their privilege. For the rest of their lives, my sons will be able to find solace and comfort inside any church around the world. They understand the words and the process. And each one will need it.
I was privileged to miscarry our sixth child on my 44th birthday. After two rounds of IVF that graced Joe and me with our three youngest sons, I hadn’t gotten pregnant naturally for a dozen years. And then we did. We’d planned to tell the boys about the new addition to our family later that night, but the pain that woke me that morning changed all that. And so, an hour before the kids got up for school, I lost that child in our laundry room, gritting my teeth and holding white-knuckled onto the washing machine. The boys never knew. I found out several weeks later that the precious life I’d lost was a boy. Our sixth son. Incredible. It was my privilege to carry him for 12 weeks. I never looked at motherhood the same way after that.
I’ve been privileged to fail in my life far more than I’ve ever succeeded. Failure is humbling. Balancing. A nagging reminder to believe you’re bigger than you are. I’ve failed so many times, I couldn’t begin to count. But I’ve never stopped getting back up and trying harder the next time. The trickle down of that privilege has impacted my sons, too. They’ve had front-row seats to the kaleidoscope of my fails. Kids learn so much by watching their parents manage disappointment, don’t you agree? I believe how an individual trudges through the muck of humility says a lot more about them than how they deal with life when everything’s going their way.
I’ve been been beyond privileged to be an American. I love this remarkable country in a way words can’t describe. I have profound respect for the men and women who’ve died so that we can all enjoy the endless privileges we so often take for granted. I hold veterans in the highest regard and lose my breath when I hear the Star Spangled Banner. And to this day, an American flag waving freely in the wind stirs inside me an immense sense of pride and patriotism. I have been so privileged to live in this land where anything is possible if you dare to go after it.
I could go on and on, but you get my point. Privilege comes in many forms. Its examples are never-ending.
But I want you to notice one thing.
Privilege isn’t about race.
It’s about perspective.
And everyone’s is different.
Time for me to wrap this up. Joe and I are playing golf this morning with his father. I’ll have the privilege of making a fool of myself in front of two of my favorite men. Thank goodness our sons will be waiting for us at the pool afterwards. I’ll be able to slip into the cool water and hear their laughter as they play silly games that usually end in a fight.
Yep. I’m privileged.
And boy, don’t I know it.
Wendy Bell can be heard on 1020AM KDKA, Weekdays from 3-6pm. KDKA Radio can also be heard through the RADIO.COM App. Follow Wendy on Facebook and Instagram @WendyBellRadio and on Twitter @WendyBellPgh.