Squeezing past an older, well-dressed gentleman to my window seat, I said a friendly, “Hello”, pulled some books from my bag, and settled in for the flight to D.C.. When he noticed I was reading the Declaration of Independence, he lit up.
“Ah,” he said and warmly quoted, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
For the next two hours, he told of growing up the son of a dockworker in a row house in Philadelphia. He began starching shirts as a young boy and eventually built several businesses and saw his children and grandchildren succeed as well.
“You’ve really lived the American dream,” I said, and he nodded.
The passengers around us were startled when we two strangers bear-hugged in the aisle before walking off our separate ways.
Two days later, I jumped into an Uber outside the Pentagon. My driver, Franklin, was from the tiny African country of Sierra Leone, so I asked him to tell me his story. He grew up in a mud hut without electricity or running water. But at eight years old, he had the chance to go to a Christian missionary school in his village.
“And that’s where I memorized the Declaration of Independence,” he said, flashing a huge smile, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
“And I knew that I would one day go to that place,” he continued.
As a young man, he applied for and received permission to immigrate to America, and worked two jobs for four years to save enough to bring over his fiancé and get married. And they’d just bought a home for their growing family.
“I love America!” he said from his heart.
“Me, too,” I agreed.
He jumped out when I reached my hotel and as we shook hands on the curb, I realized afresh that what bonds a Southern boy with a city kid from Philly or an immigrant from Africa is so much bigger than anything about us that might seem different.
We three Americans weren’t just random accidents of evolution on a journey to nowhere. We were created in the image of God, and He alone gave us the rights, blessings, and responsibilities of Liberty.
And that ideal, signed on the Fourth of July, didn’t just declare us to be free individuals, but also bonded us together as brothers. And as Americans.