Fourth of July

In what seems like another lifetime ago, I was a senior manager of I.T. for a Fortune 500 company.  In the late nineties, I hired an independent consultant named Boris who had only recently come to the United States. He did a fine job for us, and I hired him for other projects and when those were completed I recommended him to other I.T. Managers for other projects.  This went on until a couple of years ago, when he finally was hired as a full-time employee.

One summer day I stopped by his desk and looked at the new photos he’d posted on the walls of his cubicle. There, staring back at me, were the smiling images of him, his wife, and his two young sons, proudly waving little American flags and wearing the same dark blue t-shirts with the flag embroidered on them. It was the Fourth of July, and they were all beaming, a beautiful young family, proud to be Americans.

When he came to this country, in the early nineties, he had nothing.  The only work he could find was for a janitorial service, far beneath his skill set and intelligence.  Boris had studied Computer Science before emigrating.  He was also a chess master, one of those guys you hear about or see on television, able to defeat as many as six simultaneous opponents.  He may have been, in terms of education and intelligence, the most over qualified janitor in Chicago, but he never complained.  He was excited to be an American, and grateful for each opportunity that presented itself, more through his hard work than any stroke of good fortune.

Boris now lives in an upscale suburb.  His wife, who came to America with Boris, has been an executive for a privately held company for some time now.   They put their oldest son through Harvard, and I think their second son is about to finish high school. The last time I talked to Boris, I know they were considering Harvard for him, too.

Somewhere along the line, Boris became a citizen and, much to my chagrin, a hard line Republican.  We don’t see eye to eye on many things politically, but we both respect and appreciate each other’s love of our county.

Boris and his family are a true American success story. It’s a story of how hope and hard work and decentness were rewarded with opportunity, and it’s only one out of millions of such stories that could only be told in this great country.  There have never been better citizens than those who came to this country from elsewhere, those we welcomed from terrible circumstance with open arms.

Now our arms are closed and we are disgustingly taking children away from parents. This “crisis” at our southern border is a completely false narrative drummed up for political purposes.  The facts are that crossings at the Mexico border are at their lowest levels in recent history, and have, in fact, been decreasing steadily every year since peaking in the year 2000. The policies enforced by the previous two administrations were largely working.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. In order to energize his base and distract the rest of us from his legal problems, the president and his Attorney General have ripped thousands of children away from their families. We’ve all seen the disgusting footage on television. And please, let’s not get into the argument about who came her legally or illegally  – from those asylum seekers who’ve traveled hundreds of inhospitable miles to those simply seeking work and lodging, nothing can justify separating children from parents.

I keep thinking back to those photographs of Boris and his then very young family with their little American flags, and how much they love their country, and I can’t help but wonder, how will these children separated from their parents look at us ten, fifteen, or twenty years down the line? What kind of primal hatred will infest them and fester in their souls?

It is love and its ability to overcome hatred that’s made us great before, and will eventually make us great again. We must, and we will, rise up and reject such inhuman acts. We are still a decent and loving people, and we still see ourselves reflected in the eyes of the victims of these atrocities.

The president keeps saying that you can’t have a country without borders, and that we need to build a wall. But for more than two hundred forty years now we’ve managed without walls. We’ve not only had a country, we’ve had the greatest country in the history of the world, made great by the blood, sweat and tears of people and their children who came here from all over the world, and by the open arms and un-walled hearts of enough people to welcome them.

July 4th

(This is a little scene involving some characters from the novel I am writing.  Don’t know yet if I’ll be able to fit it in or not,  so I’m posting it here)

Fireflies blinked on and off in the front yard as Bernard slipped through the screen door onto the front porch.   It was almost dark, headlights winding down Ojibway Valley Road toward the Mighty Casey’s.   Everybody else was inside, in the family room, silently staring at the television, their minds wandering to wherever their minds took them, numb from the news they were still trying to absorb.  The Fourth of July was the last thing on their mind.

Outside a warm breeze blew from the south.   Bernard had his jacket on but knew it wouldn’t be required as he got to the road and started walking towards the bridge.  The plan was for him to wear his American Legion uniform, being the 50th Fourth of July since the end of World War One.  Bernard was to stand with the other two surviving veterans of the war living in the valley.  But that didn’t seem important anymore.

What was important to Bernard was to trace the steps he had taken fifteen years earlier.  He walked along the road, and before it got to the junction with County Highway H, where the bridge was closed down, where cars were already lined on both sides of the road, where parents sat in lawn chairs along the river bank and on the bridge, where kids ran in the tall grass waving sparklers, the sounds of their shouts and laughter echoing in the warm night air, Bernard, like he did fifteen years earlier, stepped off the road into the quiet shadows cast by the trees and onto the rutted tractor path that led into the rolling hay fields.  He ducked under the barbed wire fence and walked on the path parallel to the highway until it turned to the west and went up hill.   He climbed the hill, feeling a slight tightness in his 73 year old thighs, until he got to the top.  It was almost completely dark as he sat down in the tall grass and looked through the opening in the trees to the river and the bridge and the spot on the far banks where Jack Casey and his crew were getting ready to start the fireworks.

He sat in the weeds, alone in the dark, the warm breeze in his face, his hands clasped around his knees, and watched as the fireworks started to explode.  They lit up the sky, right above him, and they were close enough that they lit up the empty grasses that surrounded him.

“Wow,” his four year old grandson said, and after about the fifth explosion, he added “this is the best place, isn’t it, grandpa?”

He could see his grandson, his little shadow, in the empty red and yellow flashes of light beside him.  He thought of the trenches in the Argonne he’d made it home from, and he thought of the jungles in Vietnam his grandson didn’t, and he remembered the answer he gave fifteen years ago.

“Yes it is,” he replied, “it’s the best place in the whole world.”