It was gray and chilly in London today as I walked through the city thinking of friends and family, countrymen and cousins feasting on watermelon in the heat of freedom and the mid-summer sun. This is not the first Fourth of July I’ve spent overseas. And, in fact, in recent years I’ve spent more time out of my country than in it. Everywhere I went today, the Union Jack seemed to be waving. A different formation of red, white, and blue.
It’s a difficult time to be in the UK. “Independence” feels like a trigger word, recently fraught with misuse and now tender to the touch. How odd to be celebrating my country’s independence from this nation that once nearly colonized the world, now isolated and tearing itself apart in fantasies that it was being colonized in turn.
I do not belong here. Aesthetically I blend in, but as soon as I open my mouth the jig is up. Other things reveal themselves, too: My sense of humor is off— too goofy, too brash. I speak directly, sometimes confrontationally. I forget that I need to call pants “trousers”.
I am an immigrant from a country of immigrants, roaming the motherland.
I’ve fallen in love with Europe— from London’s Victorian streets to Paris’ sparkling tower, and every inch of Italy’s sun-soaked soil— and I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll root myself in America again. But somehow the deeper I fall under Europe's spell the more clearly the beauty of my star spangled heritage comes into focus. And the more time I spend away from America, the more proud I am that it’s my home.
We are, after all, the land of the free, home of the brave. We are innovative, and optimistic, prone to hurtling ourselves forward into the future without much knowledge or fear of failure. We are protectors and guardians of the disenfranchised and broken-hearted because we know we once were them. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
I was thinking about these things today, standing in the shadow of another nation’s flag, reminded of how quickly these qualities are vanishing in a scared world, and how dangerously close to extinction they are at home. I thought about how much I wished that everyone could see this— how beautiful America was when you took a step back and remembered what we stood for. What we stand for. How brave it makes you feel, how free.
God bless America. And everywhere else, too.