I had a flat tire on New Year's Eve. No kidding. Not an ideal night for having a flat tire, if there is such a thing. Especially as it happened in Virgina, as I was travelling home from work, and I still had over 40 miles to go. And very little hope of getting help.
Or so it seemed.
Fortunately, I am a AAA member, and called for help. It came in relatively surprising speed and, as it turned out, with even greater efficiency.
I was expecting at best that the roadside assistance worker who came to my aid would put on my spare tire, and I would make it back to Baltimore wondering if I could get my tire replaced in time for me to return to work in Virginia this weekend, given the fact that the intervening day would be New Year's Day. However, I was pleasantly surprised. My AAA contractor found that my tire had been punctured by a nail, and believed that he could fix it. Frankly, I didn't share his optimism, but decided to give him a chance. It would spare me a weekend headache if he could.
And, as it turned out, he did fix it, with the result that, however belatedly, I was able to complete my drive home tonight on the same four tires I had this morning, and was able to see in the new year with my wife in the comfort of our home.
There is, however, another dimension to this story that is worth sharing.
The AAA contractor was a middle-aged, Central American native whose English was a lot less than perfect. It occurred to me how many people would focus on that fact, and allow themselves to get unreasonably upset over it, perhaps to the point of calling AAA and demanding that someone else come out to help them. Naturally, I didn't do that and, as a consequence, I benefited from the man's expertise in fixing my tire.
Sadly, we as a nation talk about immigrants in the most condescending way imaginable, forgetting that those who came before us were strangers and sojourners in this land originally. They were equally incomprehensible to the natives they encountered. And they treated not only those natives very badly, but also treated badly the Africans they brought over here by force to work for them. Not many of them would have offered aid, as my AAA contractor was able and willing to offer me.
And, because we believe our own mythology about manifest destiny, we overlook our sins of the past and treat immigrants in the present as not-quite-worthy objects of our compassion. We imagine that it is the immigrants alone who benefit from immigration. It is much harder to see ourselves as part of the same immigration narrative that has benefited all of us (the slaves and the natives excepted) who have come to these shores.
We do indeed save immigrants. But they also save us, by renewing our society with their energy, their loyalty, their talent and their compassion, the compassion that stems from an abiding awareness of their own good fortune, and a concomitant need to share that good fortune with others. My wife has worked tirelessly to save many immigrants, and I have helped her do so. Tonight, I got saved by one.
I wished him a Happy New Year, and do so again here. I wish all of us a Happy New Year, one whose happiness stems from a deep-seated knowledge of our need for each other, and an appreciation of how immigration has, and always will, help to fill that need.