God as my judge, I swear that the outfit he had on made the threads Captain America was wearing in the recent Avengers movie look like a paper Halloween costume. It was a red, white and blue jump suit—sort of—full of stars and stripes, right down to his winged American Flag sneakers. Honest to goodness, they had wings on them.
OK, so this is New York; I have seen gaudier, even painfully obscene get-ups. We are talking piercings, tattoos, masks, bullet bras and the panoply of sights at the annual Gay Pride parade. The difference here is, this guy just spent eight hours on a commercial airliner sitting in coach for all of, well, coach to see and admire. As he views it, he loves America, he wants to be an American, and he has no issue with who knows it or how they feel about it. It is, at this point in his young life, his essence.
My family friend, fresh off the flight from Berlin, seems to understand what many of us have been too busy, either fighting each other or the rest of the world, to remember: This America of ours is a pretty great place.
“Do you really love the United States this much,” I asked. “Oh, yes,” he responded in perfect English (he wants to master the language, as well), “I want to live here, marry an American woman and build my life here.”
For Freddy, as we will call him, it was love at first sight. He first came to the U.S. as an 11-year-old to visit relatives in the southwest. Talking to him is like chatting with a friend who knows he already met the women he will marry. He is beyond doubt. His leap of faith was rewarded and reinforced when a few years later he spent a school season as an exchange student, this time in the northwest. Ever since, he has returned to the “new world” just about every year, staying for several weeks at a clip.
By his count he has already visited sixteen states. Well, Freddy is back and ready to go. I will say it again: He loves it here. To hear him talk about the New Mexico desert, the forests of Oregon, the sprawl of Los Angeles or the openness of our society is to feel anew why we, too, ought to appreciate it a little more. To hear him speak in awe of New York City, with its theaters and other landmarks, is to be reminded of what a special region we live in and what is available to us.
For just the diversity of climates, geography and culture, ours is a unique country. But mostly, as a nation founded on an idea rather than its history or ethnicity, ours is a country where all to often it takes an outsider to appreciate that this is a place to which others aspire to belong.
My thanks to you, Freddy, for helping make my Fourth of July a little more meaningful.