By Dr. Jim Ferguson
I have always had a sense of wanderlust. And I have been blessed and able to exercise this passion for travel. They say that people’s dogs often look like their masters. My dog Jack is a feist, a terrier breed. He really doesn’t look like me, but perhaps he has my wanderlust because he would rather jump in my truck and ride than eat; and a porch-hound like Jack loves to eat.
Sometimes travel is challenging, but experiencing new vistas makes it worth the effort. Before I went to medical school I went traipsing over Europe for several months. In the 19th century the English aristocracy often sent their children off for “the grand tour” after college. The graduate was expected to gain the educational perspectives of travel in foreign lands and then return home to work as a good Englishman. My grand tour was with a backpack, a buddy and a head of long beautiful hair, the style of that era. However, my buddy left me after only two weeks. He said he’d seen enough cathedrals for a lifetime, and was sick of me dragging him around the next corner to see what was there.
My parents loved to travel and took me to Europe when I was fifteen. I remember getting tipsy as we toured a wine catacomb; no one told me to taste and then spit out the wine. When I was later informed of the protocol I found it sacrilegious. I remember sitting in a Parisian night club and glimpsing a naked dancer chatting nonchalantly with a musician. As a warm blooded American youth I have to tell you that I was titillated and then “uncomfortable” sitting next to my parents through the rest of the bawdy show. And I acquired a new appreciation for the complexities of interpreting a French menu where the change of a vowel or a consonant might result in a dish from the other end of a steer. Chef Boyardee never envisioned the “meat balls” I was served one night.
They say home is where the heart is. It’s good to go, and great to come home. I’ve observed something special about coming home from abroad. After filling out the re-entry and declaration forms and matriculating through the immigration line, you eventually find yourself in front of the United States Customs Officer. I tell people this process is serious, but when the officer looks up, hands you your passport and says, “Welcome home,” you know it’s true.
March 27th, 2013 will remain a very special day for approximately one hundred and ninety new United States citizens who recited the pledge to the flag and swore allegiance to the Constitution. Becky and I attended the Ceremony in support of the young couple pictured. They are two of our Burundi friends who escaped the horrors of the Hutu-Tutsi massacres best know to Americans from the movie Hotel Rwanda. It’s been a long and difficult road for them, but they made it, and they did it legally. A hundred years ago President Teddy Roosevelt said we should not think of ourselves as Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans, but as Americans. Pierre and Angelina agree.
As I sat in the Naturalization service and looked up at the stage’s huge American flag, I said to myself, “This is what’s right with America.” There is much that is wrong with our country, but on this day you couldn’t have convinced Pierre and Angelina of this. We tend to focus on negative things in our lives rather than the positive, but as I sat there and hummed the patriotic songs played on the Tennessee Theatre’s mighty Wurlitzer, I felt more optimism than nostalgia. Perhaps these new citizens will help our country turn away from socialism and again embrace the individual freedoms it was founded upon.
The names of each new citizen were read as they walked across the stage to receive their citizenship document, much like a high school graduation ceremony. As I watched the proceedings, for some reason the quote of a friend’s father popped into my mind. General Stillwell once said, “Freedom is not free.” His immortal words are carved into stone on the Korean War Memorial in Washington. How ironic that these new citizens may be called upon like any of the rest of us to defend our country, even as the boy-dictator of North Korea loads his missiles onto their launch pads.
Federal District Judge, Thomas W. Phillips presided over the ceremony and noted that this would be his last naturalization ceremony because he retired. His short homily was about personal responsibility and a country where there was freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. As I listened I wondered about a country where all kids get soccer trophies and are not allowed the important lessons of success and failure.
Everyone in our group of supporters saw something different in the ceremony. As we talked about the experience on the drive home, Becky said she most admired Pierre’s father, Mr. Joseph. This Burundi patriarch will probably never achieve American citizenship. But he saved his family and gave his children a chance with a new life in a new country. What a legacy.
“Welcome home!” Pierre and Angelina, and welcome, Joseph Pierre, born April 5th 2013.