Fourteen years ago I left the US on a one way ticket. For fourteen years I have ranted and fumed at the US and its foreign policies. For the last 20 years I have been “Bush-Bashing.” When I left the US I had no intentions of returning. It was not the country I had known, and not the country I wanted to know.
America, Love It Or Leave It. Those were the days, my friends.
America: I loved it, I left it. I loved it too deeply to suffer shame over it.
As my friend said to me recently, “You never recovered from the Kennedy assassination.” That’s right… although I remember a few rousing good times during the Nixon impeachment hearings. He’s right, my friend, but it goes further back from that… I never recovered from Sacco and Vanzetti, Ethel and Julius Rosenburg and the House on Un-American Activities. I never recovered from Vietnam. No, I never recovered from a lot of things.
I had an extraordinary interview with a member of the US State Department this morning. I had made myself a persona non gratis and I was in a difficult position. My two closest friends and I stayed up till one last night rehearsing what my expected interrogation would be like and how I might answer some strategic questions.
But today turned out to be one of the most wonderful and moving experiences of my life. I had forms to fill out that said who I was, where I was born and who my parents were. Three times the official asked me “Did you fill out these forms yourself?” Three times I said yes I did. I looked into the steady gaze of a steady young man. He asked me where my mother was born. London. He asked me where my father was born. Boston.
“What did your father do for a living?” asked the man from the US State Department.
“My father was a Company Commander in the US Army,” I said with some great pride.
Again he asked me, “What did your father do for a living?” “He was a salesman in a company south of Boston.” The man from the State Department seemed to want to move on from there, so I had to speak up for another great person who lived her life in honorable service to her country. “My mother was a teacher,” I said. “Both my parents have passed away.” “I’m sorry to hear that,” said the man from the US State Department. “No, that’s all right,” I said. “They were both really wonderful people.” I said.
The man from the US State Department asked me to raise my right hand and to swear what I had told him was the truth. But what I swore to him was that I love my country, that I love my parents, and that I am proud to claim that my father served with distinction in the Second World War.
So the interrogation I was prepared for never happened. What happened was an honorable ritual… a right of passage. I love my country and look forward to returning to try to give some part of my life in its service. On Sunday I will land in California, a state I haven’t seen for 24 years.
- The first thing I’m going to do is register to vote.
- I think I’ll take a course in American citizenship, like those for immigrants who want to become American citizens.
- I think I’ll introduce myself to Barbara Boxer.
- I think for the next six months I’d like to work on voter registration. That’s what I want to do.
You are all welcome to celebrate with me at my US Passport Party. Champagne’s on the house!