I arrived back in the United States day before yesterday, after a cruise that took me from Lisbon to Greenwich, then across the Atlantic to Newfoundland and down the eastern seaboard to New York, where I will disembark tomorrow.
After decades of travel, I can’t count the number of times I have come back into the United States from abroad. Until recently, I have always felt a strong sense of belonging when I would see airport signs saying “Welcome to the United States of America.” I would grin from the inside out at being home.
Not any more. There is no sense of welcome, no sense of home.
I feel ashamed and disconsolate at what my country has been reduced to, and so deeply, deeply betrayed that when I approached the immigration agent, I could not even offer a polite smile. I feel knocked to the ground by unutterable sadness, at the same time almost airborne with anger, as I reencounter a country that for all its flaws, I used to feel proud to be part of, a country that undeniably has worked well for me.
Yesterday, I accompanied a group making a quick tour of historic Boston’s main sites. A couple of times I had to turn away and will myself not to tear up at the reminders of American patriots who were willing to pledge their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” to create a nation I owe so much to.
I am too much of a skeptic, and have read too many alternative histories of the United States, to go overboard glorifying any of them, but yesterday in Boston the country I want to believe in was on full display, while the papers are full of stories about the president refusing to cooperate at all with a constitutional process that is at the heart of our democracy—the right to hold our leaders accountable to us. Stories about abandoning Kurds to die, probably because there’s something for the president to gain personally out of a conversation with a foreign leader. Stories of quid pro quo’s for venal ends on matters that affect my country’s safety and standing in the world. Yesterday was a time for tears. Every day is a time for rage.
This afternoon I will arrive in New York Harbor. I am honored to be asked by the captain to be on the bridge to provide commentary as we sail in, so I will have a view of the Statue of Liberty few civilians get to see. If Boston was emotionally hard, I suspect this will be harder. I think of the children with their shiny blankets on floors in detention camps. I think of exhausted people hoping only that their fears for their lives will warrant asylum in an America whose president, when told they couldn’t simply be shot down if they tried to cross illegally, wondered aloud if perhaps non-fatal bullets in the legs might be a sufficient deterrent.
One time years ago, when I was walking in Battery Park and feeling the beautiful benediction of the statue in the harbor, I felt such a rush of emotion that I called the people I love most, just to share being there with them. It felt like such a blessing that day to be right where I was, part of this country. The loss cannot be measured, but perhaps our wholeness can be restored I don’t know. I don’t see how.
I picture the beautiful woman in New York Harbor, saying the America she represents is a land of tired and poor who came and made good. Perhaps the statue we now deserve would not be raising a torch but aiming a gun down the Narrows, or pointing to a sign quoting the president, “Sorry, We’re Full.” Or perhaps she would have uprooted these gigantic feet and gone to stand in reproach on our southern border. I am certain at the very least her face would be stained with tears. I suspect mine will be too when I greet her..