I never knew … I never knew what a blessing it is to be American until I lived overseas.
Living in America, the political nagging and fighting is constant. It’s exhausting … and if I listen too long, I begin to forget there's anything else.
Brief news clips of horrors abroad remind me about those that suffer around the world, and are forgotten quickly.
It’s one thing to hear about horrific realities that could be ours. It’s quite another thing to meet them face to face, when raw results of chaos become a name, a friend, a hand you hold …
- to hear a Rwandan quietly tell of his family being butchered by his next-door neighbors - because his family’s skin was too light.
- to hear my new friend tell me simply that she has never known her father - he never returned after "they" dragged him from his bed one night to fight in the Vietnam War (a war he vehemently opposed, for a government he did not support).
In America, we debate “women’s issues.” But a woman's issue I will never face is the fear of being raped by a policeman … unlike a small girl I met in Zambia, her sweaty hand swallowed by mine. My mind scrambled to think of Bible verses that might comfort her as tears made tracks down her swollen cheeks. What do you say?
In America, I have the right to a fair trial. Unlike the young East African mother who approached me after class one day, begging for prayer. She had been wrongly accused of stealing some fruit, and was afraid to walk home for fear of being jumped by the neighborhood “justice system.” She explained that the authorities would look the other way. “An accusation is treated as the truth, here …” she trailed off.
I have the right to practice (and share) my religion … and my neighbors have the right to theirs. Unlike so many of my faithful brothers and sisters in India, who accept that to be Christian is to be persecuted, to live in fear, to walk around with bloodied lips and bruised cheeks.
I have the right to participate in the political process. In messiness of election, I can take part … or not take part. I remember awed faces in Africa and in Southeast Asia, their amazement at the brazen freedom we have to declare our stance, even if it is against the government. I remember the longing in their voices as they dreamed that one day, they could vote knowing their vote would count, in a monitored system.
Our constitution is a beautiful piece of literature - and sometimes, it’s those living OUTSIDE the US that realize it most keenly. The truth is, we don’t know what we have.
America is still beautiful, home of the free … but it’s still just a dream for most. I’ve lived in impoverished countries, under corrupt governments this year … and even my brief time was enough to make me understand why so many are desperate to get to America.
In our times, it’s easy to live in the U.S. and be jaded by it all. I used to look around at our materialism, at our messy election system, at our incredible inability to get along … and just feel distaste for it all. And I think that's pretty natural, but I want to provide a different view, in light of what I experienced overseas.
My ingrained sense of what should be collided with the realities others face - when became MY reality;
- feeling the sting of injustice as we had to pay off a man to avoid jail in Cambodia (for committing no crime)
- being gawked at and groped by men, while policemen looked on in apathy
- being taken advantage of time and again for my skin color
- knowing there was no higher law, that we were completely at the mercy of the base morality of the majority
… I couldn't believe it. Inside, I would scream at the difficulty of it all and long for home … long for the safety, the justice, the rights I took for granted in the U.S. I realized that it was easy for me to feel fed up with America, while I daily reaped her benefits and never realized all she offered me, this land of my birth.
As we ponder these blessings, I don’t want us to become puffed up and proud -- there are reasons enough to be embarrased by the U.S., too. On Election Day, no one needs the reminder that America is not perfect.
But, may I persuade you to thoughtfully consider all the protections, freedoms, and rights you have as Americans? May I ask you to hear the words of my Vietnamese friend, and may it bring you hope: “Your people, they have the power to mould your OWN reality - and your stability remains, even in all your disagreement. It's amazing."
When you’re on US soil, in the thick of election season and you think, “would they just shut up already!” … when tensions run high between neighbors, colleagues, friends because of varying political issues -- it’s easy to forget.
Please, may I remind you?
Our country is a gift -- being American is a gift … and no matter who wins, we are children of privilege, simply because America is ours.