Wednesday, June 23, 2004

New Gifts Outright


Faneuil Hall, the Cradle of Liberty 

My work today was in part the pleasant task of escorting two Australian visitors around the city of Boston. Last fall, when I had visited Australia on business, one of these two had spent his whole Sunday taking me around to see the sights of Melbourne, and making it a beautiful city for me instead of just a hotel room. Now was my chance to return the favor.
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
They were perfect tourists – happy to walk long distances and simply enjoy every part of a marvelous June day in Boston. We walked for miles and then rode the subway into Cambridge for lunch, then walked more miles. Government Center, Old State House, Boston Common, Public Garden, Beacon Hill, John Kerry’s townhouse complete with Secret Service, Acorn Street, Charles Street, Copley Square, Trinity Church, Newbury Street, Cambridge, Harvard Yard, Sanders Theatre, North End, Old North Church, Copps Hill, USS Constitution, Long Wharf.

On the way back to their hotel, we made a stop at the Cradle of Liberty, Faneuil Hall. I wanted them to see the inside of the hall for historical reasons, but it was closed because the Immigration and Naturalization Service was holding a ceremony for new US citizens taking their oath.
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we were still unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
When we got to Faneuil Hall, the ceremony had ended and the new citizens were coming down the stairs in waves. In groups of 5, 10 and 20 they came down from the hall above where flashbulbs recorded the occasion. Ghanans, Indians, Nicaraguans, Mexicans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Turks, Russians, Chileans, Irish, Pakistanis, Taiwanese, Brazilians. We were seeing the rainbow of the human race flow by us as a stream. They walked from the hall clutching their new certificates of citizenship into the bright sun of a June Boston afternoon. In the very hall where our founders had debated their plans for independence, they had just taken an oath and were now also a part of the same noble experiment. It choked me up. As they walked past and our eyes met, I just smiled at them and said “Congratulations!”, and the new citizens smiled back at me.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
I asked the guards who were holding open the doors if we could go up to the hall, but they refused. Really it didn’t matter, for here we were watching American history being made from where we stood outside the hall. “This is America.", I told my Australian guests, "We have seen nothing today more truly American than this moment.”

Welcome to your new home, citizens. Thank you for giving yourselves to us.

Such as we were we gave ourselves outright...
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

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