May 21, 2014

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President
By Eli Saslow

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President is an important, thorough, & honorable work, and I enjoyed it very much. Of the thousands he receives, President Obama reads ten letters each day, handpicked by his staff. If he decides to send a response, he always handwrites it. Eli Saslow ('Cuse alum!) follows up with ten Americans who wrote to President Obama and received a response. Each of the ten letters Saslow features is written by an "average" American expressing concerns about any of the biggest issues of our time: health care, war, unemployment, the economy, debt, education, immigration, [gay] marriage equality. The letter-writers range in gender, age, race and their stories are impactful. Though I've lived during this presidency & have been aware of the issues, this book still enlightened me to so much of what has happened. And while reading, I could see myself, my family, and people I know in these stories. If I couldn't, it greatly increased my empathy of them. The past three years were hard. My mom was laid off a few months after I graduated, and for a time it was a blessing -- she had deserved better for a long time, she sought something new, and losing a job could force you to pursue something better. (Until it forces you to pursue anything.) But after months of applying, taking a new class, and losing her unemployment benefits and food stamps, she still had no prospects --- and it got really scary. I was still unemployed, only having worked internships and freelance gigs. Then, slowly things started to turn. She found two part-time jobs, and I accepted my first full-time position, but still, it was hard for her to make ends meet. And my mom is a warrior, because I don't think, even to this day, I completely understand just how close we were to going under. And it's always been that way, because we've always struggled financially. But she made sure we still lived well. (Father too.) Anyway, she missed the deadline to apply for medical benefits under the Affordable Care Act, & a few days later she was offered a job (finally!) that offered her full benefits, full salary, and a move to Houston -- a completely new life. No one deserves it more than her. And not everyone is so lucky, I know, though it feels like it took an eternity & tons of hard work to get here. Still with hard work, not everyone is so lucky.

I know the life I am creating for myself is one of success Is that the appropriate word? "American dream," right? To echo the theme of one of the chapters: it gets better. My parents created opportunities for me to have a much better life than they've had, and in many ways I will. This may sound dramatic, but right now really feels like one of the great turning points of my life. Everything is changing for myself and for my family so, so quickly. My mom moved away. My brother went to live with my dad. I moved out to my first apartment. But I never want to forget what it was like for us to get to this point.

Good read.

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