Tuesday, July 4, 2017

OH SAY, WHY CAN'T WE SEE LIFE AND LIBERTY?


Being from Maryland, she called a cab based in Maryland.  Although, I tell people you can see Washington D.C. from her kitchen window.  Looking through the side yard of her backyard neighbor is a boundary street.  She walks to work in Washington and returns home to Bethesda. Someday she will appreciate this unique experience. For now, she only thinks about it when I visit and get excited  to see car lights going down a street in another city!  But you can see Washington D.C. from her kitchen window.


The Maryland cab is prompt.  The car is clean and cool.  Another good visit is over.  Almost five years ago on a sunny August morning, she and her new husband packed up all their hopes, dreams and worldly possessions into one car and a rental van driven by her helpful brother-in-law.  Two full days and one night later they arrived in the city of their new beginning.  Jobs, education, friends and one dog - five years later, they are off to a great start.

I can't help it.  Everytime we part, I cry.  I tell the cabbie I'm just saying goodbye to my girl.  Just tears for the visit ending and the distance beginning.  I am happy for their place in life.  We are fortunate to see each other during the year.  The cab driver turns on the music, afraid to hear anymore of this sob story.

We drive down Embassy Row, blocks of United Nations, in brick and mortar.  Down Rock Creek Parkway along the Potomac River, always full of joggers and bikers so steeped in routine that the history across the river is invisible.  Maybe.  I always feel lucky to be able to visit my nation's capitol.  In four days, these parks and streets will be filled with celebrants waving Old Glory.

I comment on the preparations being made and he mentions how busy work will be until the Fourth of July.  He works all of the time.  But on that afternoon, he will finally take off and head to the national fireworks with a group of friends from his apartment building.  They go early to get a good place.  He says they will spread out a picnic and just relax.  He breaks out in a big smile, turning back to tell me what a wonderful thing it is to see such fireworks.  I tell him I will think of him when I watch the fireworks show on t.v.

He is not from here but he has been in America for fourteen years.  He is from Togo.  A cousin in Nebraska helped him get his green card.  But Nebraska was a hard place to start - too cold and too much competition.

I ask him if more family is here in the states.  No, his wife and children are still in Togo.  Once a year he is able to return.  But he wants to bring them over.  He really wants them to get their education in the States. We have been talking over the radio.  As if on cue, I realize I'm hearing John Lennon's "Imagine" playing in the background.  "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."  The exact lyrics when this man from Togo tells me he is dreaming of the day he can bring his family to America.  He is working on the Dream.

Hours later, I 'm on my last flight.  I feel like the plane is trying to catch the sunset, flying from the darkened east westward, towards a still coral sky, narrowing.  Below, the ground is darkening as schools, houses, grocery stores, lose their recognition.  A hieroglyphic alphabet of city lights appears to be stitched neatly with punctuations of gold and white.  From above, the message reads this is America.  In the dark, mountains and plains whisper we were here first.

The interior lights are dimmed.  My seatmate and I start a casual conversation.  I had seen him earlier, carrying a car seat down the aisle for a young mother.  As parents of an airline employee, he and his wife are able to travel to see their family.  He is grateful for the opportunity to come back to the States two or three times a year.  Originally from Chile, he is now a U.S citizen.  But his mother is in her nineties.  He and his American wife have retired in Chile.  He is glad not to miss the Fourth of July here at home.  The grill is his territory and we talk about all of the meat he will prepare for his large extended family.  Telling me about his family, he clasp his hands together.

For thirty-seven years, he looked out the windshield and across the engine of an 18 wheeler, traveling all over the U. S. and Canada.  We have lived in the same city for over three decades and have two things in common - Catholic High School for Boys and a former neighborhood.  Everytime he gets excited he clasp his hands with a clap.  But not loud enough to wake anyone.

This man has loved traveling the country.  The joy for his chosen nation is refreshing.  The pride he has in his American born children and their success in life is evident.  While he has been very successful in returning to Chile, he will come back to the U.S. someday, to stay.

He proudly volunteers his voting record and still remembers his first elections.  Even though he is in Chile, he always votes.  And being from Arkansas, we share our mutual admiration of Bill and Hillary Clinton.  I have a feeling that this "full of life" man makes a contribution wherever he is headed.  He has attained the Dream.

I couldn't believe my day's good fortune.  I began my day in Togo and finished up in Chile.  Two men from two different worlds.

Oh say, why can't we see?  Huddled masses yearning to be free of gang violence, religious persecution, mind control, despondent poverty.  When and why does our dream for freedom, two hundred years ago, one hundred, thirty years ago matter more than the least of these?  Life and liberty- a gift not a given.  A vision of hope looking through a fence or traveling in an airplane.  

Oh say, can't you see?  Life and liberty.  For the land of the free and the home of the brave.






'Good fences make good neighbours.'...
'Why do they they make good neighbours?...
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

from Mending Wall by Robert Frost



   

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