Yearning to Breathe Free

Yearning to Breathe Free

My friend Mary Ann became a naturalized U.S. citizen last week, along with 1350 other immigrants/residents from 100 different countries. (That kind of national/language/ethnic diversity is not so unusual in the San Francisco Bay Area.)

Next year at this time, Mary Ann will get to vote in arguably the most significant presidential election in U.S. history.

The ceremony itself reflected the contradictions so evident in these times.  Hearing the ideals and witnessing people taking an oath of allegiance to defend our Constitution and the rule of law was deeply emotional and inspiring, even as our Constitution and rule of law are under daily assault today.

Hearing the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, that many of us learned by heart in elementary school:

Give me your tired, your poor,

your huddled masses

yearning to breathe free…

was poignant for the majority of the 3,000 of us in the audience who are descended from those huddled masses.  None of us that day or any day could take for granted the yearning to breathe free.

Just as we don’t take for granted the values and ideals that inspire people to seek refuge, resources, and opportunities in America, the resilience it took many of them to come here from Somalia, Eritrea, Bangladesh, etc.  Hope for a better life, a safer life, a freer life is a key contributor to resilience.

Studies have found that having a clear and valued purpose, and committing fully to a mission, can dramatically strengthen one’s’ resilience.

– Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Steven Southwick, M.D., professor of psychiatry, PTSD, and Resilience, Yale School of Medicine, and Dennis Charney, M.D. professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, pharmacology and systems therapeutics, Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Whatever happened that caused people to choose to leave their homes and their homeland to come to this country, to make a new home, learn a new language and social customs, find new jobs, to follow the arduous path of becoming a U.S. citizen, it was moving to share the joy and faith of that morning.  And to re-connect to the commitment, once again, to sustain a nation committed to “liberty and justice for all.”

Wisdom & inspiration direct to your inbox