On this day, 40 years ago, August 26th, 1979, my family stepped off a plane at JFK. On the way to our new hometown, Sparta, NJ, my father insisted we stop at the base of the World Trade Center towers.
He was awed by the towers. And they were terrific, sure, but, coming from the UK and Nigeria, it was the number of trees along Route 80 that struck me.
For my father, it was the fulfillment of a dream he had gestated since he left his native Khartoum in 1962.
For me, it relieved the pressure of living in rural England, which I found stifling and often bigoted. Strangely, my siblings did not experience the same. They fondly recall our short stay in Cambridgeshire.
As I approach my mid-50s, I appreciate how this country has allowed me to mark my time on this planet to my syncopated rhythm.
I have raised three children in the states and have enjoyed a reasonably fruitful career, even as my personal life has more than occasionally wobbled and even crashed.
But as time passed, something changed. With each year, it seemed, the less I understood Americans. With every year, the nation’s great contradictions, injustices, and the struggles of so many weighed on me more.
Forty years ago, I bound off a plane, wide-eyed and filled with zeal. It was a nation that had forests just a few miles from Manhattan.
Today, those eyes are squinting and yellowing. Sometimes my heart just aches. Today, I know life can be brutal beneath the canopy.