This is a blog-post about immigration: Today is my 28th birthday.
On February 15, 1985, I stood in front of a Federal Judge in Pensacola and pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I’m 56 years old, so I’ve now been a citizen of the United States exactly half my life!
What I was doing 28 years ago was to put a formal seal on what had already been happening, little by little, since I first saw the Statue of Liberty from the window of the “Laker Airlines” DC10 my way into New York September 14, 1975.
I came, initially, for a three-week visit. Those three weeks turned into a couple of months and an 82-hour Greyhound ride to Montana. The couple of months became a winter in the Rockies. My winter in Bozeman morphed into a spring tour of the east coast states. Then I capped the year off with a two-month Appalachian Trail hike that covered the length of Virginia and more.
By the time I returned to England for a few weeks in the summer of 1976 I had been accepted to Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. It was a decision that finally put the brakes on a whirlwind 15-months of travel that had kicked off when I crossed the English Channel in April of ’75 to begin a three-month, 17-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East.
That first year at Stetson was memorable in many ways.
I discovered that I was smarter than I realized, and I learned how to become a serious college student.
I tested my faith, and found out that my relationship with God was something far more wonderful, and formative, and challenging, and real than the formulaic version I’d been sampling.
And I fell in love with the amazing Rebekah Alexander, who opened up a new world of possibilities; and – together, in faith – we began to peer through a window of vision into the future that was at once both exciting and a little overwhelming.
By the time I graduated (1980), Rebekah and I were married and she was a year into her graduate work at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta. We enjoyed two years in Decatur, had our first child (Andrew) and moved to Pensacola where she was ordained and installed as associate pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church. I went back to University so I could become a teacher.
The next summer, 1983, saw the first critical moment in my citizenship journey. The short version of the story is that we traveled to England for my grandfather Maul’s funeral and, rather than a sense of homecoming, I felt like a visitor in a foreign land. It took me off guard.
Then – and this took me by surprise too – we landed in Atlanta and I realized immediately that the USA was my home. The next, obvious, step was to apply for naturalization.
That’s the short story, and only – it turns out – part one of the narrative. Because now, 28 years down the road, there’s an interesting tweak that I’ll probably share sometime in the next few days.
Stay tuned. “God bless America.” And, “Happy 28th Birthday” to me – DEREK