I was walking today. It was a beautiful New England Fall day. It was just the kind of day that makes us all think of those hardy Pilgrims, and their brave adventure to this new world.
I am fifth grade teacher. My students learn all about life in Colonial America. I teach them that a group of intrepid adventurers dared to travel across the known world to start a new life here in North America. They learn the basics of economic theory, too, because this is the basis of the entire settlement of the New World. I teach them about wanting to make a profit. Wanting to find a life that is better for their children. I tell them that mothers and fathers, way back in 1615, decided that it was time to leave the country of their origin behind. I ask them to imagine what it must have been like to pack up their favorite books and most treasured mementos. I ask them to put themselves in the place of those seventeenth century families, trying so hard to create a better life in a place that was completely foreign to them.
Today I was walking.
I was strolling along the back roads of my small, rural New England town. I was looking up at the golden maple leaves above my head, and swishing my feet through the russet oak leaves that lay on the rutted dirt road under my feet.
I was happy. The sun was out, after ten straight days of driving rain. Birds were singing and darting back and forth in the treetops. I could hear squirrels and chipmunks rushing about under the cover of those crisp leaves. I drew in a deep, cool breath.
The road turned left under my feet. I was walking along what used to be our town’s main farm road. The remnants of old apple trees spread out on the hillside to my right. An empty field, now covered by purple asters, spread beneath the old orchard.
On my left were new houses. Houses that have been built in the past ten years along this beautiful, winding rural road. I passed one home that proudly displayed a row of jack-o-lanterns on its front steps. The drifting yellow leaves that fell gently from the trees around the yard confirmed my impression of the quintessential New England homestead.
And then I walked on. The gray stone wall on my left wandered along the road, looking as if it could have been there for two hundred years. I came upon a big yellow house on the left side of the winding road. Its front yard swept forward in a beautiful arc, curving along with the road. Three bright golden maples stood along the road, just behind the old stone wall. The yard was separated from its neighbor by yet another graying stone wall, and there were two strong oaks standing just inside.
On the lawn in front of the typically New England Colonial house I saw a young man and his wife, raking diligently as a million other New Englanders have done before them. A tiny boy was jumping into the pile of leaves, shrieking in delight. His much more mature older sister, perhaps 8 years old herself, was torn between watching him frolic and helping her parents to rake up the piles. A typical New England fall image.
I stopped on the street, smiling at the scene.
The father was wearing a baseball cap and a black sweatshirt. His graying hair was tightly curled and cut short. His wife wore a beautifully colored yellow and fuschia skirt, draping to her feet. Her black hair was wrapped in a rose colored kerchief. Her face was serious, the glistening dark brown of her skin interrupted by the bright white of her smile. Her little boy’s face, a beautiful mahogany brown, was lifted to the golden morning light. Her slim, strong daughter wore her coffee colored skin so proudly.
I stood still for a moment, watching this happy, beautiful family enjoying the morning light. And I heard the father call to his son, in a lilting Caribbean French. I stood there, unseen. And I thought about what I teach my students every year. I thought about what I know of the forced slavery that happened in the Caribbean. I thought about what I know of those who showed such courage to bring their families so far across the ocean to start a newer, better life.
I thought about the news stories that I read every day now. I thought about our fear of strangers. I thought about our panic in the face of legal and illegal immigrants.
I stood still, the old stones from a New England farm of long ago stretching out in front of me. I watched the beautiful young mother as she raked up the oak leaves and let her happy little boy jump into them. I stood quietly, shaded by one of those golden maples, watching as a loving father scooped his serious little girl into his arms, and dropped her into the pile of crisp leaves on his lawn.
I drew in a breath. I brushed a few tears from my cheeks.
I think I found America today.
And I think that, at last, I feel a sense of hope for my country and for its future.