I’m watching the sun begin to glow behind the Laguna Mountains this morning (I’m still on EST, which is why I’m awake enough to write before sunrise), and I’m thinking about a story our own Doctor Floyd wrote a few weeks ago, and about a poem.
Yesterday I was up before the sun, hopped into an enormous metal tube in Gainesville, Florida, flew through the air to Atlanta, Georgia, where I wandered around a sprawling concrete, glass and steel building for a couple of hours, climbed into another, even larger metal tube and again flew through the air to within a few feet of the Pacific Ocean. Door to door, my trip took less than twelve hours.
We think of air travel as just another way to get from Point A to Point B. But if, somehow, we were able to explain it to our great-grandparents, they would see it as nothing shy of miraculous.
Only a little more than a century ago people died making that trip. Regularly. Still, they made the trip. Single men looking to get rich, or just get some space (or pillage). Businesspeople looking for a fresh start. Families looking for a place of their own (Yes, I know, a lot of it was somebody else’s first).
They crossed thick woods and malarial swamps. They climbed set after set of foothills and mountains. Broke their wagon wheels (and their horses and themselves) on boulders. Were shot at (and shot) by bad guys and good guys alike. Nursed snakebites and dysentary. Buried children, parents and friends.
From the air, if you care to look, you can see how unspeakably hard it must have been to cross this continent. You can see every river, lake, stream and ditch, and how very far it is between them for a lot of the trip. You can see how dense the forests sometimes are, how far the prairie stretches, how high the mountains reach and finally, how desolate the desert really, truly is. You can see where some gave up and put down roots because they just couldn’t walk another step, even though where they stopped had nothing to recommend it to a potential human community. And you can imagine how much those people must have wanted to be somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere their own. Facing all they faced, many of them kept on walking, riding.
If you wonder what makes the American character, what sets Americans apart, for good, for ill and for everything in-between, what makes much of the rest of the world ask just what the hell Americans are thinking from time to time, wonder on this. We’re made of restless stock, Americans. Most of us didn’t start here, ancestrally. We crossed oceans – some unwillingly – to get here, and once we got here, we didn’t want to stop going.
People still want to come here for the very same reasons our ancestors did, for the same reasons your forebears and mine picked up stakes and said, “Yeah, I know it’s going to be hard, but I believe we can make something better over there.”
Today we – me and you, through our elected representatives – sit in judgment of these modern-day immigrants. We decide how easy or how hard it will be for them to just be here and try to find that better of which they dream. Some of them wait patiently and work through the proper bureaucratic channels. Some jump in the back of a truck and head north, walk deserts, swim rivers and dodge bullets and snakes. Some climb into a shipping container packed like sardines (or slaves) and cross the mighty Pacific. Some rig a flimsy fishing boat and hope for winds and currents to take them somewhere different, somewhere better.
The sun is up now. If I squint hard out the window of my generic business conference hotel window I can see Mexico. Right now, just a stone’s throw from where I sit this morning, there’s a kid shaking in her boots making a deal with some shady guy to get her across the border. Right now, there’s a family hoping that kid makes it, and that she can send them some of that better. Maybe even send for them one day.
You and I, we judge that kid. There’s a Lady standing in a harbor in New York who hopes we judge well.
In addition to writing here at Everblog, Harvey Ward writes about his efforts to live healthier and better at SkippingDessert.Com. You can also find him on Twitter @hlward.