Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Dawn's Early Light

from Jacqueline

On the heels of Jim’s post, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the “hope” message of late – guess we all have, not least because President Obama has come to office on the tide of our collective hope that he can bring us all together and make America stand for something in the world again. Which with a wide turn brings me to one of my big projects this year. Yes, me, the immigrant.

I think my brother and I both ended up here in America due to early conditioning at home. It wasn’t just the fact that my dad loved cowboy movies, or my mother’s stories of those lovely US airmen who bought her chocolates on her seventeenth birthday at a time when there were no chocolates to be had in London – it was pretty much one big bomb site at the time (I’ve told that story here before). There was a certain respect for America, a sense that without America, where would we be? America was the place where everyone wanted to know your name, where the cars were that big – and you should see the size of their refrigerators! They might be a bit parochial, and they don’t get our jokes (or we theirs), but those Yanks had pulled us all back from the brink more than once. Go west, kids – it’s a place where hard workers are appreciated. You can be anybody you want to be, in America.

But the truth isn’t always so cut and dried, is it? As soon as you see a bit more of the world, you realize that there’s good and bad everywhere and in everyone, that there’s as much to like in one place as there is in another, and as much to get under your skin too. Yet there was always something magical about America – the myth of America, if you like. Those wide open spaces were as big as the heart of the people, as wide as the eyes of boys who died on the beaches of Normandy, thousands of miles from home, and all for us. There was a certain innocence, a naiveté in America – this adolescent of a country, raring to go. During its darkest hours, it wasn’t as diminished as tired old Europe.

Yet even in the almost twenty years since I came to live in America, it seems to have grown up an awful lot, not always for the better, and I don’t mean since 9-11. Cynicism, selfishness and blind nationalism became bedfellows, and somewhere an insidious greed led to a hunger that could never be adequately fed as we gorged ourselves silly on whatever was our fancy, the cost and out-of-control debt be damned. And the rest of the world – no angels there, mind – saw America tumble from its pedestal.

About three years ago, my brother took the leap and became an American citizen. Actually, he really wanted to vote (gee – I wonder why?). Inspired, I downloaded the forms (lots and lots of paper) and the “Guide to Naturalization” (even more paper), and sat down to apply – I think I even wrote about it here on Some questions seemed downright silly, but there you go – I am sure those same silly questions appear on similar forms in other countries. However, it was when asked if I would bear arms for the USA that I faltered. Quite apart from the fact that no one in their right mind would put a gun in my hand, I just couldn’t do it. I believe the “right to bear arms” has been stretched far beyond the range of possibilities envisioned by the Founding Fathers, and I am fiercely for gun control, and more of it. And, I realized, there was more to my faltering than that. I just couldn’t see myself swearing allegiance in the shadow of a man who I thought was bringing the America I had loved – the America my parents had put on that pedestal – to its knees.

I met Our Jim at the Virginia Festival Of The Book last year, and talked it over with him – I figured a man who carries a gun as part of his job, and who is highly trained to use that weapon, would have an opinion and could offer advice. He agreed – if you can’t swear to bear arms, you shouldn’t do it (even though I could have been like so many others – you know, just check the box and get on with it). It was clear I had to stick to my guns and be content with my “Permanent Resident” status.

But time marches on. On election night, I felt that old America stirring. Not a perfect America, not a spotless America, but that America with a big heart, an America with hope and optimism, where you feel you could be anybody you wanted to be (even if circumstances suggest that you can’t). A gifted US Airways pilot executed a perfect landing on water while the year was still young – oh yes, the old American magic was back, and we all wanted to keep it that way. And I knew that if, by a dictate of this new President - and all that he stands for - someone was silly enough to want short-sighted old me to bear arms for America, I probably would say, “OK, just show me how to use the thing.” And I would trust that they were asking for good reason. On Inauguration Day, watching Barack Obama being sworn into office and the colors and creeds of America gathering in great numbers to witness the event, it was with a heart full to bursting that I knew I could stand up, place my hand on my heart and say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ...”

Those endless pages full of questions that have been languishing on my desk? Bring ‘em on!

(... and I guess I’ll have to finally get to grips with the finer points of American sports. Could prove to be a bit of a sticky wicket for me).


  1. Understanding American sports is simple.

    Point A. Paul Levine roots for the two oldest football coaches in the country. Jim roots for one of them.

    Point B. There is no Point B.


  2. Wonderful post, Our J. Here's a quote from Niall Ferguson's op-ed piece in this morning's LA Times:

    "Americans, Winston Churchill once remarked, will always do the right thing--after they have exhausted all other alternatives."

  3. American sports are easy...and comparable to sports that Brits play if you look closely enough. :)

  4. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, all for your comments - and your advice on those American sports! Apparently, most "batting" games have their roots in the centuries old English game of rounders (we used to play it at school when I was a kid). It's clearly a forerunner of both baseball and cricket (and even the lesser-known "stoolball" which, despite the name, is actually a lot of fun). I remember when our Canadian cousins came to visit and we decided to play rounders, only they were playing to baseball rules - my brother ended up whacking one of them with the bat and telling them to get back to Canada if they were going to play like that. He was six at the time and clearly never destined for foreign relations.

    And we all know American "football" is a descendent of rugby, played with lots of armor and stops to rest ....

    Patty, Niall Ferguson is on of my hero-historians - and that quote from Churchill is one of the best!

  5. Sounds like we need to have a NA Superbowl party so the experts can point out the nuances of the game. I'll bring the beer. And by the way, doesn't anybody out there just watch football for the bun action?

  6. from Jacqueline

    I'll watch the Superbowl just for the Budweiser ads with those Clydesdales - now that's what I call bun action!!!

  7. Hello Jacquline!! Welcome back! :-)

    I've missed your insightful posts, and this more than others has touched base, so to speak. I've been considering my citizenship here the USA and can now apply for it. Especially since my mother in law passed away last Friday. She gained citizenship in the 1990s but still went home twice a year to her beloved England. Now that we have to think about creating our own estate from the ashes of hers, going back to the Immigration office for citizenship has been weighing on my mind. And like you, I didn't want to do it under the previous regime here in the US. I cheered and cried on Inauguration day: not just for myself but for all of the hope and joy I saw in people's faces. It's been absent for a long time.

    On the 'right to bear arms' issue. I've born them for Australia in my distant youth, and I shrug and think, yeah, I guess I can bear them for the USA. Just hand me my glasses and show me how to use the new-fangled gun things...

    It's been a helluva a week just making funeral arrangements. Now I wish the trifecta of things going wrong would stop. We have new brakes and tires on the car; repaired the minute damage on it after slo mo nose into a snowdrift; and salvaged the hard drive from my hubby's computer which decided to turn up its toes, er motherboard yesterday - and access the information, like the memorial he was writing for the funeral. BIIIG circle. Tired now...

    Thanks for a really special post, Our J. :-)

  8. Marianne - lovely to hear you back, too! I'm sorry to hear you've had such a rotten time lately, and especially sorry to hear about your loss.

    I know what you mean about one thing going wrong after another - for that reason I wasn't sorry to see the back of 2008. It was what I would call a rough old year.

    Take care out there in that snow!

  9. hi jackie,
    i only just realised, that you naked people are finally back. yipee!!!
    this is a good time to become an american citizen and i wish you all the best with your application forms.
    the papers over here are talking about "obamania" and we're all hoping that he can live up to the expectations and promisses.
    good luck to you and god bless america!!!

  10. Jacqueline:
    The most interesting thing about mum passing on is all the writing she did for her writing class that we found among her papers. Pages and pages of memories in memoir essay format that are very personable and fascinating. She was a remarkable woman who had spirit and courage to go along with her flaming red hair. Memories include meeting Glen Miller during the war when he played the Queansbury USO club when her father was the chef there, and waiting for the horrible night when Mr Miller didn't turn up to conduct his band; sailing into New York on the Britannic in 1953 among a lot of other young English hopefuls; The Blitz; D-Day; and myriad other things. We're reading some of her words tomorrow at the memorial. :-)

    Thanks for your kind words,

  11. Jackie,
    I remember our conversation well. I respect the desire to be true to an oath.

    That, in itself speaks well of a potential citizen.

    It's easy to support governemnt when you agree with people holding power but that's not what America is about. Not everyone is going to agree all the time. There must always be opposition. It's healthy.

    I respect most politicians, even though that's against common and current sentiment, because I believe, wether I agree or not, they are working toward ideals that they believe and are, for the most part, doing what they think is right.

    I don't agree with some laws that I am charged with enforcing. I took an oath to enforce thiose laws. I don't pick and choose what parts of the oart, or the constitution, are important.

    You are right that some people are stretching the constitution. Things are wildly different now than when it was written.

    I'm just glad you're here, although you wouldn't be much further from me, distance-wise, if you were still in England.


  12. I was going to suggest that many women discover the "finer points" of American football to include focusing their attention closely on the finer tight ends in the game...but of course, Patty beat me to it.

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  14. Hi Sybille - yep, we're back! And you're right, there is an "Obamamania" going on, lots of excitement. Though it's tempered, I think, by the knowledge that the President has an eye-watering job on his hands - and that would be in the best of times. Lovely to hear from you.

    Marianne - cherish those memories from your mother-in-law. Just over the holidays I was listening to my parents talk about the London of their youth. Of course, I lap it up - it's real history from real people.

    Jim - I knew you'd remember that conversation and I agree with everything you say. We can't pick and choose what we agree with, however, I have always believed that a strong personal understanding and respect for the values that underpin our lives, and to be prepared to honor those values, stands us in good stead when it comes to making decisions. As I have always said, I may not agree with another person's opinion, but I would go to the wall to support their right to speak their truth.

    And Jeff - If I had known, years ago, that there were men in America known as "tight ends" I would have been over here and pledging allegiance like a shot!