“We are a nation set apart by a grand project many of us believe was divinely inspired, which holds as its premise all of us are created equal under God. By this, we have inspired the world.”
Americans were a rarity in the Channel Islands, and no less in the British Methodist circles where Sandy and I spent most of our time. So, when we heard the American accents in the terminal of Heathrow Airport, it was our first sign of home. They were an African American family, a father dressed in a dark business suit and his two young children shouldering backpacks half their size with the Star Wars theme. His son sported a Jedi and his daughter Princess Leia. I smiled and gave them a nod. The father returned the gesture and said a soft “hello”. The familiarity of their sound felt good and at last I knew I was ready to be home. We were strangers bound by our plane tickets and the country we call home.
While Sandy and I were in Jersey, we discovered that ancestry is important to many of the residents. Several families at St. Helier Methodist Centre were able to trace their descendants back to 1066 when William II invaded Jersey and, the Islanders will tell you tongue-and-cheek, Jersey conquered Great Britain. One elderly gentleman joked that while he has lived the last fifty years in Jersey, he is still considered a Londoner.
It struck me in these conversations how unique the United States is in its founding and diversity. When the American colonies claimed independence in 1776 it is believed that anywhere between two to ten million native people lived in the North America. Today that number is only a tiny fraction of our population, and this of course has its own story. We have become a nation of immigrants, and compared to the linage of our European counterparts, the vast majority of us are recent arrivals to these shores.
Some of us were brought here by force to work as slaves, and when finally emancipated had no other home. The rest of us are here because our forefathers and foremothers were either persecuted or looking for opportunities they could not attain in their ancestral homes. Our people were more than likely poor, with the sum of their belongings contained in a handbag. The story of our nation continues in this way when we see the Latino working the construction site or the woman with the Middle East accent working late hours at the gas station checkout.
The morning before we left Jersey, news broke on the BBC of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Virginia. Traveling from the Channel Islands onto London, then to New York City and finally home near midnight, the details of that terrible day filled out. The words of Lady Liberty played through my head, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Intolerance and hatred have no place in our nation. Its assemblies should receive no validation and their lit torches do not belong within our shores. It is not who we are or what we were founded to become. We are a nation set apart by a grand project many of us believe was divinely inspired, which holds as its premise all of us are created equal under God. By this we have inspired the world.
As the long day of travel came to a close and l tried to settle myself to sleep, I closed my eyes and saw before me the African American family in the terminal at the London airport. I could still hear the father’s voice, that first sound of home. We are fellow countrymen, so I pray for him, for myself and for our common home.