At some point — I can’t quite remember when — it stopped happening. People still heard my English accent, of course, but the question it elicited changed from “are you visiting?” to “when did you move here?” Without even noticing, I had become of this wonderful place.
Over time, I have come to understand why. It’s not the way I speak, which hasn’t changed; it’s my bearing. Having been in the United States for a decade, I can now spot English tourists before they have said a word. At the airport, in the lines at Disney World, at the door of a New York deli — there’s something about the gait and gaze of my former countrymen that is a little different. I had it once. Now, I do not.
Ten years ago today, I got off a plane at JFK’s Terminal 4 and took a cab to a bar in Brooklyn, where I met a dear friend of mine who had offered to help me settle in. Since that time, I have been through two visas, an emergency work permit, a green card, and, eventually, a citizenship ceremony at which I happily took an oath to abjure all prior allegiances and protect the Constitution. I have gotten married, had two kids, and moved no fewer than five times (six, if you count the week during which I lived under my desk at National Review). I have been to 45 of the 50 states, written a book and thousands upon thousands of pieces, and started a small side-project business that I run from a Florida beach. Occasionally, people will ask me if I ever intend to “go home.” I am not remotely offended by this question, which is always asked innocently and with kindness. But it makes no sense: I can’t go home, because I am home.
I love the United States with an almost religious fervor. I always have. This country is the closest thing to Providence that my secular worldview will allow. As a writer, I spend my days outlining the rational side of my love to anyone who will listen, but the truth is that it goes far deeper than all that. I have come to believe that, as with art, foreigners either “get” America or they do not. I can talk at length about why I have a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence on my wall or why the dynamism of the U.S. economy makes it preferable to any other, but I cannot properly justify why I, a guy from a small and peaceful island 3,000 miles away, should feel so intimately attached to the music of Jelly Roll Morton or the game of baseball or the scenery in Monument Valley. Saying “we” when referring to America was a habit I had to pick up, as might a newly married man. Deep down, though, I’ve always felt it, instinctively.
When I first moved here, my favorite national holiday was July 4th, with its fireworks, its renaissance vibes, and its unabashed Americana. A decade later, my favorite holiday has become Thanksgiving. Zoom out into space and look back at the Earth. Where, and when, would you live if you had an unfettered choice? In my estimation, there is only one sensible answer to that question: In America, now. There is nothing at all wrong with our bitching and moaning all day about the government or the culture or this or that; indeed, as citizens, that is our right and our responsibility. But it is a great sin to do so absent context, and the reality is that Americans who are alive in 2021 have won the grand prize in the cosmic lottery. Every Thanksgiving, I think about this: Of all the people in all the world in all of human history, I got to live in America. To be ungrateful for this would be absurd.
And yes, I mean in America. Not “red” America or “blue” America or whatever other color America. Not the North or the South or the Pacific Northwest. America. Like everyone else, I have my personal political preferences, and yet I am convinced that an America without all 50 of the states would be a sadly diminished place. What a privilege it is to be able to move freely between New York, Miami, and New Orleans; between the Rocky Mountains, the lakes of Minnesota, and the Carolinian coasts; between Missouri barbecue, Texas steak, and Californian wine. This is a country that offers skiing and surfing, museums and rollercoasters, the Masters and the Daytona 500. It is a sprawling, diverse, rambunctious, wild sort of place, with room for the punctilious and the peculiar alike. Taken together, this country we call home is the greatest framework for freedom and flourishing that the world has ever known. It is as much a privilege to be a part of today as it was on that day, ten years ago, when I touched down in a rainy New York City with a backpack, an address I didn’t recognize, a headful of unanswered questions, and, though I didn’t know it at the time, an entire future before me.