In Full Glory Reflected

More years ago than I would like to admit, my dad’s sister was visiting from Venuzuela Venezuela [You always spell countries as you first learned them, and in my case I learned it wrong. Ed. note: spell check, woman, spell check.] (of all places) and said something that truly puzzled me.

Now, I think I’ve spoken of this before: I come from a family of immigrants.   Odd immigrants, as most Portuguese are sent from the home country because they’re starving or lack the skills to make it.  Our family tends to go rather because we have wandering feet and are called by something out there, or just the desire to know what is out there.  In every generation it seems to hit about half the children – a calculus my brother and I prove true, because there are exactly two of us.

Some of those who leave come back, though not all, and that too is odd for Portuguese immigrants, who tend to all plan on returning home in their old age.  The last one in my father’s line who came back – after spending most of his working life in South Africa, Brazil and Venezuela was my grandfather.

My – now late – aunt, his daughter was visiting I THINK in the seventies, when a lot of other family – cousins, and second cousins, and great uncles – were coming back from various troubled places in the world, sometimes with only the shirt on their backs.  I think my grandmother (who stayed home while grandad traveled, though they wrote to each other every single day) was trying to entice her only daughter back and she said something like “I hear it’s bad over there.”  And my aunt said, “I prefer it bad there than good here.”  (Though, mind, it was nowhere as bad as it is under Chavez, but one must presume she still preferred it, because she died there four [?] years ago.  And her children still live there.)

At the time I was a kid and this was utterly puzzling to me.  Why would you prefer to go far away from home, somewhere where things were supposedly “bad”?

I suppose if I went back this year, they could say the same about the US.  In fact, mom and dad have at various times said just that, in a concerned tone, “why don’t you come back to where you have family that can help, now that things are bad?”  (Yes, I know, things are bad in Portugal, too, but honestly they’re used to it.  The country has TECHNICALLY been bankrupt for close on 900 years.)

They don’t ask it very seriously or very often, because they know the answer.  What called me away from home was more than restlessness, or a feeling that I must go somewhere.  What called me was rather the feeling that my home was always here, waiting for me.

Long before I first set foot in the US I had read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and I knew by heart the words to the Star Spangled Banner, which I still can’t sing without choking up.  (And not just because I’m mid-range-deaf and the world’s worst singer.)

Another point of reference in the journey was the day I overheard mom tell a friend she was very worried about me (I was about fourteen I think) “because she thinks the world should work ethically and according to principles.”

If I had to describe what called me to America it was that: I was drawn by the idea of a nation formed on principles rather than a commonality of blood, and by the principles on which it was funded – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and equality under the law as the means to procure them.

Now, is America truly, throughout the ages, the shining city upon the hill?  Well, no.  America is created by humans (whether solely by humans is something you may take up with that peculiar set of my characters who call themselves Usaians and who – in my future society – maintain that America is part of a divine plan and if lost will return.  They got very loud in my head when I typed that America was solely human.  I am not, at this moment, prepared to argue with them) and maintained by humans.  Humans are fallible.  We can all point to times when we fell short of our funding ideals.  But the ideals remained, and we – the majority of us, for the loonies like the poor shall be with us until the last days – agree they’re something to aim for.  They are our reason for existing, the reason we are Americans.

“Bad” over here is still a “bad” in which most people believe in human rights.  It is better than the “good” in most places.  Most of you – most of us – will agree we’re going through a rough spot.  But I believe in this brotherhood of principle that is stronger than any brotherhood of shared genes.  And I believe we, my brothers and sisters in liberty, shall emerge from all this, perhaps a little battered but not defeated.  I believe we’ll endure and continue to be a beacon to the nations, and to provide a home for those who – like me – are Americans tragically born to foreign parents.

My other aunt – mom’s next-younger sister – who lived for many years in France tried to tell me before I got married that I should convince Dan to move to Portugal instead, because “no matter how many years you live there, you’ll always be a foreigner, and you’ll know it, and they’ll know it.”

I’m not going to deny that at first things seemed very odd – but they were the processes of daily life, not the essence of the nation.  The essence of the nation – how people work and how people relate – has always seemed if not perfectly rational, at least perfectly “like home.”

The first time I came back after having acquired permanent residency, I almost kissed the gentleman at passport control at JFK, who looked at the green card and said “Welcome home.”  (I’m actually very sure I hugged him, much to his shock.  Imagine doing that now, in an airport.)  And the day I got citizenship (still have the flag) I felt that for the first time I TRULY belonged somewhere.

That is because of the difference between France, where – more often now in the default – race and land are still the fundamentals of the country and the United States, where common belief in a radical credo (if you don’t think the US Constitution is not radical, you need to read it again, with a fresh glance) is the reason for citizenship.

On this strange fourth of July – for Colorado – in which we can’t have fireworks or cookouts (but we can gather around the piano and sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Yeah, if your glass shatters that was me hitting a note disastrously off-key.) I’d like to give a moment of thanks to the men and women who formed this country and held it vital and strong through good times and bad (and the times we’d rather not even think about); I’d like to give a moment of thanks to all who died to keep the country independent and free; and I’d like to thank all of you, born-Americans for having allowed me to become one of you.

I’ll be here, in my corner, dissolving into tears at the closing lines “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

    (Also blogging — different post — at Mad Genius Club)

81 responses to “In Full Glory Reflected

  1. ppaulshoward

    Glad you found your “true home”. [Smile]

  2. We should have a singing contest, I might beat you out for world’s worst singer, and I like to sing 😉

    Happy Independence Day!

    • I LIKE to sing too. When we lived in Manitou Springs our home faced the mountain where the fireworks were set off. Front view.
      By accretion we became fourth of July central. For us it was the biggest party of the year with everyone from Dan’s job and everyone from the writing community, and tables groaning with food. (I still miss it.) EVERYONE assembled on the balcony for the fireworks, and afterwards we all sang the anthem at the top of our lungs — and with me crying.
      Because we were sort of in a bowl, all our neighbors for a couple of miles got to hear us. The usual reaction was for shouts to come back saying “You can’t sing.” DUH. But we were fervent. Off key but fervent.

      • My wife can’t sing, either. It’s all tied in to her dyslexia, and being a preemie, but I don’t know how. Right now, she’s losing her hearing (otosclerosis, where the ear-bones get calcified and quit moving). I used to have a fairly good singing voice, before two throat surgeries. It would take a lot of work to get back into singing shape. Since I can no longer tolerate anything above a loud whisper without pain, I’ve had to forgo singing, and to a lesser extent, even listening to music. I still manage to listen to Celtic Woman or classical occasionally when I write.

        • I don’t have any of those excuses, no dyslexia, full term, just a horrible singing voice (and always off-key).

          That’s okay though, I just make up for it in volume 😉

    • Sorry to say but I would grin and bear it. I have great pitch and a very nice voice.

  3. I would join you but my wife who has perfect pitch actually finds my singing painful.. Happy Independence Day all.

  4. Gotta sing, gotta dance, la la la, da da de da! I can’t do either very well but I enjoy doing them anyway. Happy Independence Day Sarah! I’m really glad you decided to move to our young, but spirited, plucky country. My wife immigrated here from Sweden thirteen years ago today so it has special signifigance for us beyond being our national holiday.

  5. Dorothy Grant

    Happy Independence Day!

    I can personally say, as an American, I’m glad you wanted to come here; you’ve made us (usian?) richer for your presence.

  6. Sarah –
    I am glad you are home. I also have itchy feet and it is most obvious in the summer. I have lived in South Africa, Japan, Panama, and Germany. It has been a real shock when I had to come home and to see the disparity between what I remember and what is actually happening.

    I had a cashier (when we were talking about history) say dismissively that they didn’t need that old history anymore. But, I still come back. I settled in Nevada instead of Utah. (I don’t like living in a theocracy.)

    I agree with your USAians. Certain documents (Constitution, Declaration of Independence) are inspired ideas that will transcend time and place. I believe that they will make us grow up if we let it.

    Happy 4th – to you and yours,


    • Let me guess: cashier was very young? And oh so foolish. “Those who do not learn from history…” And guess what? We’re finishing out the adage.

    • Let me add a few more to the list:
      George Washington’s farewell address to the troops.
      His second inaugural speech, and his speech refusing a third term.
      Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
      Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural speech.
      Just about anything said or written by John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin relating to government.

      I loved these things (except Reagan’s speech) BEFORE I became a history major, and they were a big part of my BECOMING a history major. The English just “sort of happened”, and the Earth Sciences were a part of my Air Force job. My first love, however, was and always will be history.

  7. So make a joyful noise….

  8. Free-range Oyster

    I am glad that you found your way home. “And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

    • Yes, there IS a second verse:

      “And thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
      Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
      Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
      And this be our motto, ‘In God is our trust.’
      And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
      O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

      • Yes – I haven’t heard that verse in many many years.

        • Actually, Stephanie, there are four verses. As a Doolie at the Academy, I had to memorize all four of them. Sadly, I’ve forgotten them now. I still have my 1964 “Contrails” so I CAN look them up. The one you quoted is actually the fourth verse, not the second. 8^) (don’t you just hate a smart-a$$?) If anyone’s interested, I’ll post the other two.

          • Yes, I haven’t heard the other two since I was a kid.

            • Verse II
              On the shore, dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
              Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
              What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
              As it fitfully blows, half conceals, have discloses?
              Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
              In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
              “Tis the star-spangled banner; O long may it wave
              O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

              Verse III
              And where is that band, which so vauntingly swore
              That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
              A home and a country should leave us no more?
              Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
              No refuge can save the hireling and slave
              From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
              And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
              O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

              • I had forgotten those two verses – I do remember singing them though. The fourth verse brings it home though.

              • Susan Shepherd

                There’s a fairly shiny video of this in the “FOO sings for BAR” series. In this case, it’s France singing for the United States, and they go through all four verses.

            • I put this on a banner (okay, old sheets) and hung it from my balcony on 9/12/01

              No refuge could save the hireling and slave
              From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
              And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
              O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

              I hoped it was a promise.

              … I might have SLIGHTLY freaked out my neighbors.

  9. I’ve spent a couple of July 4ths and Memorial Days overseas (Europe), and something always seems odd. No fireworks, no reading of the Declaration of Independence, no one singing “America” or “Battle Hymn” or “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean,” nothing other than bits in the news about the crazy Americans eating too many hotdogs. 🙂 There’s something special, wonderful, crazy about the USA. As you say, Sarah, a nation based on some strange ideas of individual liberty and equality of opportunity is going to endure in some way or fashion. Happy July 4th, y’all!

    • TX, whenever I was overseas, it was with the military. They always went out of their way to celebrate, since the locals didn’t. Some of my fondest memories are from the 497th RTG annual 4th of July picnic.

      • Mike & TX – yes, we were overseas with the military too and had great fireworks and celebrations. It was always fun. I find the celebrations in the US less exciting. I have to give kudos to our landlady. She had a great 4th of July party and then we all sat on the grass in the complex and watched the fireworks from the park. It was great.

    • Stryder Barlow

      Actually, while I lived in Denmark it surprised me to learn they celebrated the 4th of July, not only because they were our allies, but because they traded parcels of land between the two countries, making it easier during the second world war for the American’s to legally remove theirs and other Scandinavian Jewish families and political refugee’s. I even went to one of the celebrations up in Aalborg.

  10. It’s a flawed country but yet a grand idea. Glad you’ve decided to join the family.

  11. Sarah Hoyt, you are not a foreigner. You are more American than most of the people I know. Our nation is better for you choosing to join us.

  12. Pingback: In Full Glory Reflected | According To Hoyt « Head Noises

  13. you’ll always be a foreigner, and you’ll know it, and they’ll know it.

    …Is it odd (or Odd) that my first thought is along the lines of, “Yeah, so? There’s plenny’a furriners who’re Americans”? (In about that accent. >_> )

    I feel furrin’ enough, being from Texas and living in New England. And now neither place quite feels “home.” *sigh*

  14. Welcome home, Sarah.

    I think it was Rush Limbaugh that said, “There are Americans all over the world born in the wrong countries.” I’ve known quite a few of them. They’re some of our finest citizens. I love this country. I swore an oath to protect and defend it that had no expiration date. I’m always happy to find others that love this land.

    Unless you’re 100% “native American”, you’re an immigrant or the children of immigrants. Even the “native Americans” immigrated here from somewhere else, they just did it earlier than the rest of us. On this day, the anniversary of the birth of our nation, I wish every American had the appreciation you and others like you have for this nation. Unfortunately, even many of our children have yet to learn just how special this country is. For those that poo-poo that idea, may you experience the grinding poverty, lawlessness, and political repression the vast majority of the world lives under until you understand just how special the United States of America really is.

  15. This is your home, and we are your family, too 🙂 And I’m proud to (if you allow it) call myself a USAian. I used to have a fairly good singing voice (current asthma twice-a-day thing has ruined it) and I am incapable of singing The Star Spangled Banner or the Battle Hymn of the Republic or America the Beautiful without tearing up and crying. And I don’t care 😉 So glad you found your way home to us 🙂

  16. What makes America different than most countries is that America isn’t about land or race – it’s about an idea, an idea that society is best served by free individuals working towards their own enlightened self interest and unincumbered by an intrusive government. You don’t have to be born here to be American, and most will welcome you into the family without so much as a glance at where you originally came from. Here, we (mostly) judge you by what you do, not by who your parents are.

    Having been around the world a few times, I’m always grateful to return to our shores. It’s the finest country on Earth, and I make no apologies for saying so without hesitation.

  17. I like how Chesterton explained the difference between a nation of blood and a nation of principles: .

    Other than that, I 100% agree with you.

  18. Thank you. And I tear up at those songs, too – “… gave proof through the night that our flag was still there …”

  19. Several years ago I was reading some blog that had an international horde of commenters. One of them mentioned how he felt out of place in his home country, never quite fitting in with his compatriots because he thought people should be judged as individuals, it didn’t matter where they came from, what religion they had, etc. That’s when someone pointed out it was because he was an American that had just been born in the wrong country.

    And then another commenter piped up, with the simple question, “When are you coming home?”

  20. “And thus be it ever, when free men shall stand….”

  21. What is it that the bio blurb in the Asimov books says? Something to the effect that to his surprise, he was born in Russia, but that he corrected that mistake as soon as he could?

    Nowadays, many of the most “American” Americans come originally from other countries. Happy Independence Day!

    • This country has a long history of having to import our best citizens, especially since starting to have to go up for our frontier. It isn’t that we can’t grow our own, but for some reason the sediment forms a crust on the top instead of sinking to the bottom.

      • It’s called scum for a reason, RES.

        • Some predators eat scum, Stephanie. If we have enough predators, the scum thins and sunlight makes its way into the gloom. Not enough, and the scum gets too thick, and blocks out all the light. Too many, and the predators begin to starve. Keeping the proper balance requires importing middle-feeders from time to time, since we don’t seem to grow enough of THOSE ourselves.

      • Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, is a pretty awesome immigrant. Speaking of going up.

  22. That was the nicest Independence Day message I’ve read today. Thanks!

    And may I add a gratuitous “USA, USA!”

  23. Hope Change

    I LOVE YOU, SARAH HOYT! My sentiments exactly. I was born here and I agree with everything you’ve said.

    Your aunt may have been right about France, or Japan, or … But when someone becomes an American, they are an American — as much as anyone.

    How does it happen? No one knows! It’s a miracle wrapped in a mystery enclosed in a hallelujah.

    I’m putting a link to this post over at Legal Insurrection and sending it to Glenn Reynolds.

    Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, says we can only correct a dog’s behavior when the dog acts out. So we need the dog’s bad behavior; the bad behavior is a gift. Perhaps we can only correct the government’s bad behavior when enough people see that we are on a course for LESS FREEDOM. So maybe we need the bad behavior; maybe the bad behavior is a gift. I hope so!

    But in any case, SARAH HOYT, YOU are a gift. I also agree that the Divine is behind the USA and we humans are not alone in our efforts to preserve government OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE.

    Thank you for this wonderful post! And Happy Fourth of July, Independence Day, to all.

  24. I ought not be hormonal, as I’m certainly on the other side of one end and not close to the side of the other, but this choked me up and made me cry. I even took a break in the middle of reading the post in order to entertain the baby niece who is staying over tonight away from party noises.

    People finding their “home” always gets me like this, and if you weren’t pretty awesome, I’d mildly resent being made to cry. (I always mildly resent crying. xD; To the point of refusing to watch movies people praise as, “making them cry”.)

  25. “(And not just because I’m mid-range-deaf and the world’s worst singer.)”

    Ah, no. To all who make the claim, really.

    That would be me.

    • Piffle. I can provide testimonials. There are injunctions against me in 37 states, barring my singing in any crowd of less than 1500 people (and then only on condition I stand in the front in order that no innocent party inadvertently overhear my mutilation of music.)

      CATS complain about my singing and coyotes have been known to throw objects.

  26. “no matter how many years you live there, you’ll always be a foreigner, and you’ll know it, and they’ll know it”

    Might very well be true in France. Not true in the US. (I’m sure you never forget you weren’t born here, of course. But if you didn’t persist in mentioning it, we all would. And believe me, there are plenty of folks who _were_ born here that are more “foreigners” than you’ll ever be, in the ways that actually matter.)

    • You’d forget it, unless you listen to me Honestly, if I could find a good theater coach, I’d get rid of the accent. I can “pass” in every day life. Here, because I mention my childhood, etc, it’s easier to be straight with y’all.