Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.Wendell Berry
By leaning in, it was possible to breathe in all the female feels of a life yet to be navigated. I remember. Yet for her, plenty of maneuvering had already taken place before we met. A sketchy map riddled with ignorance had offered her few assurances and even less opportunity. Street smarts born of a hardened culture pushed out and flourished in her becoming.
“My excitement has no bounds!” she said. Her fresh use of English was endearing. The eyes of this tiny South American born mother of a five year old boy popped like a firecracker.
I considered her little guy. How lucky he was to have the focus of such self sufficiency, a budding matriarch twirling with potential.
She visibly expanded with the confidence of a newly won and precious award – citizenship in the United States of America. Our first encounter was a true revelation for me. Assignments for work had always pegged me as an interviewer of others whether it was to welcome hundreds of newcomers to Maury County, Tennessee or to write life stories for local magazines and newspaper. And still I had never spoken with someone hot off the requirements of becoming a United States citizen.
As she detailed the process, my curiosity catapulted into the world of an immigrant. The application, the interview, the English and civics tests, the in-take for biometrics and finally the oath of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony.
The particulars were sparkly in her retelling. My emotion for the history of our country had clearly been swept into a hollow bin of entitlement. I was spellbound.
She absolutely loved being inside of what her new home stood for when she was on the outside looking in. You remember the one – the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Heard tell, her citizenship was spawned by the idealism of a person who has experienced the pain of lockdowns, shutouts and the plight of women as second class citizenry.
I wondered: how different American life would be if we could flip a holographic switch and view our own immigrating ancestors in those initial moments of gratitude and/or terror? Weren’t they propelled here by the unbearable constraints that slowly were whittled away by authoritarian houses of sand?
The next time I saw la madre, the contrast in her demeanor rolled over me like that unexpected ocean wave that hits you when you are facing the shore. “How are you?” I said. She had plans for creating her own business and I wanted to show the type support which I had taken for granted in my own life. “I’m very sad. Very depressed,” she said.
It was June 24, 2022 and a startling turn had occurred in the way the United States interprets itself. By definition we had been a multiplicity of knowings. How fragile the future seemed with the news of the most personal of freedoms stripped.
She explained that in her home country, women scuffled for autarky. Life was increasingly difficult for them by way of a government which prohibited self sustaining solutions and barred independence for its citizens. With a lamentation of “But the United States of America has always been a beacon of light – of religious freedoms,” she flattened.
While frowning, she continued – “Lines have now been crossed. Separation of church and state breached. What is happening?” Limitations from her past haunted her. I bowed to her dreams of over arching freedoms now in dissolution.
She said she came here because of the respect that this country professed for the individual. I thought about how in the name of my own faith a balanced regard for the other was being destroyed by those claiming to be arbitrators of truth.
The two of us sat with detached understanding to the sort of power that thinks it knows what God knows about each of us. Seeking bravery, we began to talk about dignity and the women we have known to have it.
She offered that her grandmother Martha, a beloved soul who props up countless women in her home country is about my age. In another space in time, it sounded like the two of us could have that long chat about shoes and ships and sealing wax.
My friend spoke of Martha’s ancestral recipes using medical herbs. Then I shared my lifelong love of culinary herbs. Some herbal wisdoms overlapped.
Distractions were needed and so we turned to more talk of lemon verbena whose bloom can be used for digestive disorders, insomnia, even Multiple Sclerosis. Martha’s granddaughter said she often made this tea for her family. My friend believes it kept them from rampart illness in times of distress.
Ill conceived laws created without appreciation for the fullness of life’s tribulations interfere with the personal contract we each have with life. Having checked a box, we settle into shallow ideals and deflate into puddles of fear.
Punitive measures are easy. Only empathy can deal with human predicament effectively and spawn the sort of community which the future needs.
Some call this awakening, turning a corner. I call it becoming reborn.
In the name of the land of the free and the home of the brave, I wanted to mentor my friend and say that getting out of our own way has been a grueling multi-generational process, but then I realized what stymies each solo act is the inability to access the life of another. Increasingly modern life places us in scenarios of category never to experience that miracle moment of empathy.
We shared a big hug and I spoke with her about infinite value, after all, her son was watching. In the name of a multicultural society, exercises in respecting others, turning the other check, working hard, playing fair, telling the truth and modeling generosity are necessary in order to become the object of admiration which we once said we sought.
After our chat, I went home and made some lemon verbena tea hoping to cure my raging case of disappointment with my fellows. Some say that betrayal settles in stomach. I may need a larger plant.
Lemon Verbena and Mint Tea
Go outside and breathe deeply.
All is well.
Pick a handful from the mandatory yard herbs: lemon verbena and mint.
Place in a warm teapot.
Add boiling water.
Infuse for 5 minutes.
Strain and use your favorite sweetener. Mine is honey.