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Neil Diamond was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family. His grandparents were immigrants: on his father’s side they came from Poland, and on his mother’s side from Russia.

This is one of my favorite song of his.

We’ve been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star
Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again
They’re coming to America

Home, don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
Today, today, today, today, today

My country ’tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing
Of thee I sing

Source: Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies— little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts— from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo— we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

Then the airline broke out free apple juice and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend— by now we were holding hands— had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

As I complete four years of living in The Big Apple, this is the song that’s playing in my head. And I breathe in the intoxicating romance that makes the illusion of living in this city the gilded dream that it is.

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Today, I complete three years of living in New York City area. This is the longest that I have ever lived in any place in the US., the closest being Colorado Springs, CO where I lived for a little over 2.5 years.

What does it mean to live in New York?

To me, New York is the greatest city in the world. Granted, it can be an insane place. NY challenges you in many ways but this is also a place where people help and support each other. The differences you see among people living here are so amazing that you can spend a lifetime just observing them. You can find people from all religions, skin colors, traditions and languages of the world. You can find those of differing sexual orientations, millionaires, homeless people, intellectuals, artists, musicians and celebrities riding incognito in the subway. This is also a city where you can wear a dress from any part of the world and people would hardly raise an eyebrow.

There are beautiful parts and there are terrifying parts in the city.

New York is the city of dreams. People come here from all over the world to make a living and many succeed.

Manhattan Skyline  © copyright Marc Cappelletti

As I complete three years in The Big Apple, I couldn’t agree more with this quote –

The present in New York is so powerful that the past is lost.

~ John Jay Chapman

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