Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Grilled Cheese

~ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, 
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are 
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ~


One Thursday in May, in a courthouse in Brooklyn, 240 people became American citizens. One of them was my husband András. He is among the one hundred million Americans that have become citizens by oath rather than birth since our nation began over 230 years ago

The story of András’ citizenship is not mine to tell. Most of it happened before I even knew him—the green card application process, the steep fees, the long waiting, lawyers, courts, exams, and the 5 long years where he could not travel home to see his family. By the time we met, András was a green-card carrying permanent resident who knew more about our country than I did. He studied and revered our founding fathers; he knew the names and spellings of most members of congress. 

I was only there to cheer him toward the finish line, to quiz him in preparation for his final citizenship exam, to pick out his tie for his last interview, and stand by him with an un-earned pride in his journey as he stood taking his Oath of Allegiance. I even cried a little. Then, we covered our hearts with our hands and spoke the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag and the liberty it stands for that I’d long since taken for granted.

When it was over, the judge addressed the audience.

“This oath signifies your confidence in the United States of America,” she said.

I hadn’t spent much time thinking about my own confidence in this nation, but this was a concept that András, who was born into an era of communism in Hungary, understood very well. It’s confidence that the nation will defend its borders, that no government including our own can come in and steel your land or your liberty. It means that you can travel freely beyond our borders and come home again any time you wish.

Unconsciously, I believe my confidence in this land is in its people, the diversity of our origins and the opportunities and tolerance that breeds. My confidence is in self-made men, like András, who continue to build the nation with their own two hands and who hold fast to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our own pursuit of happiness began with hamburgers {veggie for him, beef for me} and fries at Williamsburger directly following his naturalization. András took a hold of two catsup containers and assaulted his plate like only a true American could. I was proud.

It continued on as we celebrated for two weeks, with friends in New York and with my parents in Illinois over meal upon meal deeply rooted in American tradition. We had corndogs and watermelon and potato salad on endless stacks of star-spangled plates from Costo. We drank bottles of coca-cola and attacked mom's chocolate chip cookies and homemade chocolate cake. We ate grilled cheese and bad pie in a half dozen diners from San Francisco to New York and we loved every minute of it.

Though he has a deep love and reverence for his homeland, András was made to be an American. He loves tuna melts and potato chips, skateboards and baseball caps and can hover down a handful of M&Ms with the best of them. He pledges allegiance to Pearl Jam and Metallica and this morning he even woke up humming the national anthem. But still, after deep indoctrination into the fabric of this great nation, I felt something was missing, until last weekend, when András cooked his first meal on his very own American-made gas grill, my gift to honor his achievement.

This weekend we will celebrate our independence quietly, in a little house in the country where András can rock out on the grill and I can put my feet up, drink lemonade and give thanks for his confidence in the United States of America. 


Bre & Jairo said...

I loved this entry. I laughed out loud multiple times and could not help but be a little prouder to be an American.

Brittini said...

I believe your husband and I would be great friends. i too have a love of pearl jam...and all things american food!!
I was in teh kitchens the other day...just not the same without you!

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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.