I Want To be In America
Excerpt: BOFAW, Chap. 20, Sasha
“There is a principle which is pure, and placed
In the human mind, which in different places
and ages has had different names. It is, however,
pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward,
confined to no forms of religion, nor excluded from any,
where the heart stands in perfect sincerity.”
What started out to be a routine trip to the Post Office, to send a package to our friend Maria, turned out to be a revelation. It was a joyful surprise to meet Alexander (’94) on the front steps. Alexander was a foreign exchange student from what has become modern-day Croatia. It was not uncommon for exchange students to “hang back” and cautiously observe the first weeks of their Biodesign experience. Actually, what we were doing, in terms of “opening up” and sharing, was not that common for most US kids, but the exchange kids did not know that. Typically, the girls, were the first to venture into the potentially scary world of “being real” in front of a whole class. They were nearly always the first to volunteer to read their self-expository papers simply titled, “Who Am I?” Many of the students were brave enough to present their best rendition of who they were and hope that the class would not reject them as being weird. The opposite was almost always true. As kids revealed their hopes, dreams and aspirations, they began the process of “falling platonically in love” with the beautiful circle of classmates.
Alexander was the last to lower his guard and present his paper. There were some intense moments like the one when his face blushed with fear and anger as he said, “I have been listening to many of you who talk about lovey-dovey stuff, but you have no idea of what the real world is like outside of St. Helena. The week before I came here, my best friend was shot in the head because the thief wanted the new pair of tennis shoes he was wearing. You have probably wondered why I have not been too verbal about my feelings, maybe you will see now that I am not so sure it is such a good idea. However, many of the ideas about going to Yosemite and Grand Canyon sound “cool” and I am looking forward to that.”
Suddenly, standing in “perfect sincerity” seemed to take on a totally different meaning.
Alexander settled in and had a wonderful Yosemite trip which included making friends with a French female day-hiker who was wearing cut-off Levi shorts that were revealing more of her butt cheeks than was considered “decent.” He informed me that she was “part of Yosemite Nature too.” We became friends and hiked out of Grand Canyon together. I watched him call in a storm over the inner gorge and we stood under the end of a rainbow together. He had a wonderful year and Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the Mendocino Coast helped him recover from some of the emotional scars created by his war-torn country.
Amazingly, he was able to return to the US, marry his girl friend and settle in St. Helena.
As we talked, I shared that, because of Biodesign Out For A Walk, I had become good friends with Maria, a woman about his age and from his neck of the woods in central Europe. I mentioned that I was intrigued by her deep sense of spiritual hunger. I reminded him that during the “cold war” period of USSR, the KGB was instructed to seek out and burn all copies of the Holy Bible that they could find. Alexander’s eyes glistened as he said, “My mom raised me as a Catholic, but it was not allowed so I had to wait until I got to America to be baptized.”
In the 70s-80s, on April 15, a San Francisco immigrant, who escaped from Communist Yugoslavia, dressed up in his best suit and tie and gave a little speech on the stairs of the main Post Office building. His message was always the same.
”I am so proud and happy to be able to pay my taxes. It is a wonderful privilege to be living in this great country.”
During the same period, in the nearby town of Angwin, Calif., a man had previously escaped the Communist take-over of Czechoslovakia. He hiked alone, approx. 1200 miles, up through Finland and found safe haven in Sweden. From there, he sailed to America. He was often asked to speak at local schools and civic groups where his message was always the same; “It is impossible for Americans to fully appreciate America. You have to come from outside to feel the awesome sense of freedom.”
Suddenly, standing beneath the Stars and Stripes at the US Post Office, in the sleepy little town of St. Helena, took on a whole new meaning. The 4th of July would be Thursday and I wondered why so many of us have taken so much for granted.