Yesterday I woke up at The Drake in Chicago, after jumping on a plane the day before to meet with partners who reviewed my work over the past fiscal year. Later, I had fun eating and drinking wine with a colleague at a trendy bar, then wandered past beautiful apartment houses on Lake Michigan before I retired to my posh (if treadworn) hotel. I got up in the morning and ran a couple miles by the lake--on the Gold Coast, as I believe it's called--before getting in a cab and heading to a lovely office where I did some work and chatted with co-workers I usually only speak with by phone or e-mail. Despite weather delays at O'Hare that made even frequent fliers grumpy, I ended up having a fine talk with a nice man, now nearing eighty, who had been an in-house lawyer at a couple of major public companies and then got into "a little private equity stuff" and now lives with his wife in Palm Springs.
This morning I dashed out the door to my appointment at the local office of the Department of Homeland Security. My appointment was at 8 a.m., and when I arrived with about two minutes to spare, there was a line outside the door. Once unlocked, I stood in line while the bald, tattooed worker at the door asked for identification, asked each person whether the address on their DHS letter was their current one, and then asked to look at the palms of our hands. I was told where to sit. When I tried to walk around the row instead of across everyone's knees, I was instantly directed--"No! I said, sit there." The lady I met at the resort in Austin would make a fine DHS employee, based on today's experience.
I was also admonished for using my Blackberry. Evidently communicating with my colleague in London--I didn't get the impression the timezone issue would cut much ice with the Office Administrator--was not appropriate. This meant I had to look around. I was the most fortunate person in the room.
Yesterday, when I told the partners I really hoped the weather wouldn't hold me back because I needed to get to my appointment at the DHS to renew my Green Card, they were perplexed. "Where are you from?" one asked. "Canada," I responded. "Really." He hadn't even considered me as an immigrant. I have brown hair and freckles on my nose and sound, now, like I am from Orange County, or so I am told by native Texans.
This morning I sat with the people who are, in the eyes of the United States Government, the same as me. I wished I could have asked them about their stories, but I didn't speak their languages. (During my last wait, ten years ago, I had a fascinating conversation with a young woman in a Burka who held a Ph.D from a university in Pakistan. She had immaculate Oxford diction and I was wildly intimidated.)
On the rare occasions I've been stopped for traffic violations, I've never been asked for my papers. I've never been the butt of a racist joke or been yelled at or told I've been stealing American jobs in marketing professional services. At cocktail parties, nobody tells me I don't deserve to be here or I am likely to break the law or use up social services. No one looks at my children and whispers they are a drain on the system. There doesn't need, as far as I've heard, to be a wall between my country of birth and the one where I now live. I had the priceless benefit of spending thirty years in a nation with a high standard of living and an even higher standard of education, so the opportunities afforded me in the United States have been extraordinary.
I am lucky. But I am not better. The country to which I have been so fortunate to immigrate has provided me a life and experience I could not have dreamed of as a child. Today I was reminded that all of us who have the chance to live in freedom and relative prosperity in our homes of choice are, if one looks at the broader world, are a tiny percentage. If you have had the happy providence to be born in a country in which you are safe, free, and can earn your way to better things, count your blessings. And remember that accepting those who are tired and poor can build great nations. As for me, I am just plain blessed to be here.