Born On The Fourth Of July

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Meet George. He was born in Romania and came to the United States due to an unfortunate set of circumstances that ripped apart the land of his birth.  He fled his country with a determination to make a new life for himself and his family… and he did. He is satisfied with what he has accomplished. It is glaringly obvious that George is the type of person who makes the best of what he has been given. He makes sure that whatever he plants blooms where it grows…people, optimism, and opportunity… just to name a few of the things that have flourished under his tutelage.

Today is a day of national celebration and George is driving the shuttle bus that is taking me to the airport after the BIG BIRTHDAY BASH. His enthusiasm is contagious as he talks about what he loves about this Fourth Of July holiday.

“I celebrate this land today too and with great joy,” he says in English broken by his native dialect. “It has given me my independence. Its a place where I can be happy and work doing what I want to do. I get to choose. That was not possible in Romania.”

He continues:

“Here in America, you have chances. You can be rich or you can be poor but you always have hope. And even if you are poor you still have opportunities and chances waiting outside your door every day. You still can live decently no matter what you have or don’t have. I hear so many complain that ‘”I do not have this or that'” but they will never starve here. The citizens of the United States will never know the true hopelessness of there being nothing out there for them…no jobs, no homes, no heat, no food. Here, don’t have to live under the threat of knowing that there is a chance you might be taken from your home never to be seen or heard from again. In the United States, you don’t know what true oppression is and the fear that dominates your life because of it. People here think they have it so bad, but the truth is, they don’t know how good they really have it. They forget to be thankful for every morning that they wake up in a country that honors its citizens and gives them the freedom to be who they want to be.”

“So what is your favorite thing about the Fourth of July?” I ask him.

“Of course it is the fireworks,” George exclaims with the enthusiasm of a young boy “I went down to the river the first year I was here to watch. Never had I seen such a thing. So loud and so big.  To me they were colors of hope and promise and I knew if I reached high enough in the night sky that I too would find my place in this country. And I did. It’s not the perfect place but its my place. That is what I was looking for when I came…a place for me to be me. I like to think that I was born a citizen that day, that I was born on the Fourth of July.”

“Are you going to celebrate tonight?” he asks.

“Yes. I will spend time watching the fireworks with my family and setting off a few ourselves,” I say.

“When you do, I want you to look at all the different colors in the sky, and remember that they look like all the different kinds of people living here. It is a beautiful sight, is it not? says this immigrant turned citizen.

And tonight, as I watch my own family of immigrants celebrate alongside the people of this diverse neighborhood, I think of George, and I have to agree with him… it is a glorious and beautiful sight indeed!

Forgotten Things

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These past five days:

I have had the chance to rejoice

In the unconditional love of my grandkids

And basked in the joy of watching

Them learn and explore

Watched as cousins took turns

Comforting the crying baby

Willingly and with a gentle appreciation

Of the difficulties of travel on young ones

I have gotten to have a greater

Understanding of my daughter

Her daily life

And her aspirations and dreams

For herself and her family

I have met cousins from here to there

Two of whom I never knew existed

Until I found them last week

One on-line and one

In a tiny local historical center

The volunteer of which

Called him to say

“Come down here. A relative of yours is here!”

And he came lickety-split

To meet an unknown

Provided with a chance to talk and compare notes

Next to the sloth bones that another cousin

Dug up over 100 years ago

And others I have not seen

Since I was a moody teenager

Sulking in my own misery

And misunderstandings of life.

I have traveled to the towns

Of my ancients

And had a glimpse of how and where they lived

Drove by their houses and fields

Seen the rows of corn

That are planted in the same spot

That my Great-Great Grandparents hoed

I visited the graves of those grandparents

Who made the perilous journey

Across a vast ocean

With hope of achieving something

BIGGER and BETTER

For their children

Their dreams realized in the faces

Of their  never-known great grandchildren

And beyond

I have celebrated the birth of those

Who have shaped me

Shown me love and concern

Throughout these many years

And helped me to become who I am

I have been given precious keepsakes

Hundreds of years old

By my Aunt who loves to make

Others happy in the most

Delightful and meaningful of ways

I have felt the pain of my daughter

Whose child does not sleep

While admiring her calm and patience

On so little dream time

I’ve watched you, B

Love our children from afar

Reminding me, once again

Of all the precious people

I have waiting at home for me

With open arms and love in their hearts

But most of all I have had the opportunity

To feel all those blessings in my life

That I often miss during

The hustle and bustle

Of daily life

And those bountiful moments in time

With family members that love me

In ways once unimaginable

I am thankful for all

That I have

All I can give back

And for you

Giving me the chance

To discover things long forgotten

Birthdays

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Next week I head east for the  BIG BIRTHDAY BASH. My Aunt M will be turning 90, my father will be turning 80, and my cousin will celebrate her 70th.That is 240 years between them which amazes me. Even more remarkable they share the same birthday each 10 years apart.

During this weekend celebration I will have the opportunity to visit with cousins that I have not seen in 40 years. But best of all, my daughter and my grandkids will travel up north too. where we will spend time visiting the towns that my relatives used to live in 100 years ago. It will be a blast.

As I have prepared for this joyous occasion I have come to realize that birthdays are something we don’t pay enough attention to. Sure the day you are born is random but who you are and who you become is not. When you were born you brought hope, joy, and promise into this world and you are all still doing it today. Sure the luster may have tarnished a little here and there but the promise we offer the world and each other remains the same as the the day of our birth. What we give of ourselves is still precious. What we teach others is still important. The love we share is priceless. And often the same people who welcomed us when we arrived, still hold the dreams that they held for us on that day deep within their hearts and rejoice as we achieve them.

That is not to say that birthdays don’t have their downfalls. They do. Sometimes as we age we question what our purpose is. We sometimes stall when we should soar. Often birthdays serve to remind us that we must make good of the limited time we have on this earth and gently remind us to get our ass in gear. But most of all birthdays have proven to be good for your health as studies have shown that those who have more birthdays live longer.

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So here’s to birthdays big and small. This year, may you give yourself the gift of allowing yourself the freedom to be who you were born to be and the ability to rejoice in who you are!

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