"Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers, that the mind can never break off from the journey."--Pat Conroy
Isn't that the truth? I have pondered my trip from the distance of a few months and an election. Some trips you take to relax; this trip gave me a new vantage point to examine my beliefs, in particular my beliefs about America. I love my country. I believe her ideals, her birth in liberty, her rugged individualism make us the best country in the world. The best. I believe that to the core of my being. I believe that God had a hand in our founding--that we were intentionally founded in a way that gives us freer access to our Creator than anywhere else, and freer access to be who God would have us to be.
Further, I believe that anyone in the world can be an American. Anyone. And something happened in Beijing to confirm that, less than thirty seconds really, that I can't quit thinking about.
We were in the train station in Beijing, waiting to board the train to Shanghai. It was a long line. As we approached the gate, the attendant was asking some people for their passports. She was asking the foreigners, but she didn't ask one single Chinese person. So of course she asked Bill and me...but she didn't ask Jean and Charlie. Jean and Charlie, who hold United States passports, voted for the first time in 2012, and are proud American citizens. The gate attendant assumed she knew that Charlie and Jean were Chinese because they looked Chinese. And two things hit me right then: first, no matter if I became a citizen, I could never truly be Chinese, no matter how much I wanted to be, because I wasn't born here to Asian parents; second (and more important), anyone in the world can be an American, because it isn't how you look on the outside, it is what is written on your heart that matters here.
Do you love liberty? Do you hold "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" dear? Do you believe you should just be left alone to pursue all the wonderful things that God has laid out for you to try and see and do in your life? Can you dream? Can you build big things so that your children's lives will be better than yours? Then come! We want you! You are already American in your heart--you just need your passport to match.
Think of that. We are the only country in the world where you can't guess, based on appearance, if someone is "one of us" or not. Where it is the heart that matters, a person's beliefs, and not their skin color, hair color, accent, or even where they were born. Being American is a choice.
I used to write a lot about politics. I still follow it, but frankly the election was enormously painful for me. This is why: for the first time, far more than ever before, how you looked on the outside was a reliable predictor of who you voted for. Think of that. Something is wrong when that is true. And yes, it is easy to point out that I am a textbook Romney voter--white, upper-middle-class, married woman. (Heck, I would have voted for Romney because Ann's a rider!) I don't know what to say to that. But when an entire campaign is focused on telling people that they must vote for a candidate because it is who they are--we are headed somewhere that I don't even understand.
America is about our heart and head, but not the things you see on the outside. I think I glimpsed a fundamental truth about America when I was halfway around the world. But the people who are spreading lies--and they are truly lies--about identity and belief and politics, those people are out to destroy who we are as Americans.
First we have to recognize it. I hope it isn't too late.