A Saint Patrick's Day message from Ireland: Thank you, America
That's when it happened. I was drowned in wave of emotion. At first, I struggled to identify this overwhelming emotion. It was more than mere sadness, but what was it?
As my wife and I embraced, all around us pulsed this extraordinary nation: a vast new country that has given millions of the Earth's poor a new life. Then I recognized what this overpowering feeling was: gratitude. Tears of pure gratitude for all of them, the Irish, and all the other peoples: a million human dramas unknown, all swept up from despair in to the arms of America.
I looked at the skyscrapers, the blue Hudson, and the friendly people walking by. In the ether within and behind this complex nation lies the golden soul of the improbable proposition that is America. And so I whispered to it, to the quiet soul of America, as though it just might hear me: "thank you".
Thank you for giving those poor people a home. Those immigrants beat impossible odds and survived unbearable hardships. This triumph of the human spirit was only possible because America opened its arms to them and offered freely a new home where, from of the black pits of despair, their futures shone bright.
St Patrick's Day is not just a day for Irish Americans to be proud. It's a day for all Americans to be proud. Whether your ancestors are African, Mexican or Chinese, the Irish-American story, like so many others, shows that the words at the foot of the statue of liberty are no empty promise:
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free."
Perhaps too it gives us pause for thought, and asks us to remember today's poor and dispossessed, both in the forgotten corners of the world, and in our own neighborhoods. But think of them and look beyond mere pity: remember the vast potential of the wretchedly poor:
In the nineteenth century the masses of destitute Irish were thought of as a hopeless burden on society. Yet by the 1960s they had risen to become one of the most powerful, industrious, creative and wealthy ethnic groups in the United States. JFK, Henry Ford, F Scott Fitzgerald, and millions more besides, changed the world for the better through hard work and sheer genius. The same potential lies within impoverished people everywhere, just waiting to be unlocked.
Perhaps on St. Patrick's Day too, America's enemies might pause from their hatred and plotting and consider that, contrary to their dogma, America at its best does not trample or oppress the poor, but raises them up to freedom, dignity and prosperity. Everyone: black or white, Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
Look today, at the White House, where Barack Obama will thank Ireland for its contribution to America. But few think to thank America. America suffers from a deficit of gratitude. No matter what it does, there are many in Europe keen to mock and deride America.