After my 85th birthday last week, I looked back over my life and was surprised to discover in how many different ways I had been lucky, in addition to some other ways in which I was unlucky.
Among the things I did not know at the time was that I was adopted as an infant into a family with four adults, in which I was the only child.
All sorts of research since then has shown how the amount of attention and interactions with adults a child gets has a lot to do with the way the child develops. But of course I knew nothing about such things back then.
It was decades later, when I had a son of my own, that I asked one of the surviving members of the family how old I was when I first started to walk. She said, “Oh, Tommy, nobody knows when you could walk. Somebody was always carrying you.” . . .
Although I was raised by people with very little education, they were people who wanted me to get an education. They praised my every little accomplishment when I was very young, and I was taught to read by the time I was four years old, taught by someone with only a few years of schooling herself.
Years later, when I was promoted to the seventh grade, I was surprised by what a commotion it caused. Then I was told: “You have now gone further than any of us.” You don’t need a Ph.D. to help your child get an education. . . .
Not everything was wonderful in my family or in the world where I grew up in Harlem. But, as I learned from later research, the homicide rate in New York when I was growing up was lower than it had been in the years before, and much lower than it would be in the years afterward.
I cannot recall ever hearing a gunshot, or even having to think about gunshots when I slept out on the fire escape on hot summer nights.
The New York City schools were among the best in the country in those days, better than they had been for the European immigrants before me and much better than they would be for the mass influx of blacks from the South after me.
As for bad luck, there were years of that, too. But I learned a lot from that bad luck, so I am not sure that it was all bad luck in the long run. And 85 years is a very long run.