On August 1st, Swiss Independence day, I was privileged and honored to stand in front of a crowd gathered in the Valais at the foot of the Petit Mont Mort. I sang “Amazing Grace” and the words echoed in the shiny brown rocks that, just 16 months earlier, propelled my feet to the top of that mountain as it glistened with snow.
After a speech by the Mayor, I took the microphone again. I’d requested to sing the Swiss National anthem just as I’d done for 4 years in a row in my German-speaking home base of Luzern. José (God, bless him because I truly love this precious man) encouraged me to sing the first verse in my go-to German, even though the Valais is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. I began singing the song I truly love for the people I truly love: the Swiss.
Trittst in Morgenrot daher – seh’ ich dich im Strahlenmeer... Schweizerpsalm
As the “Texas friend of the Hospice” sang their country’s anthem, I knew what at least a handful were thinking.
“She’s the kind of foreigner we want.”
Oddly enough, I am more old school “Swiss” than most of my Swiss friends. I believe in mandatory dialect language in the first 3 grades of primary school (I also believe in optional evening classes in dialect language once a week for parents). I believe in strict rules – clean up after yourself & others, don’t be too loud anywhere, continuing the tradition of mandatory military service, explore pragmatic options before resorting to extreme ones, go along/get along, greet people with “Bonjour”/”Grüezi”/etc., keep shops closed on Sunday, treat the elderly with respect, fresh air cures almost anything, let men fix the fondue. I want foreigners to reach B-level communication of their canton’s language in order to apply for a work/residency permit to make their lives here better/easier. I think people who flush their toilets after 10PM should get a ticket.
Oh! and I believe everyone should have the Swiss National anthem memorized. It’s too beautiful not to hold in your heart.
I’m still not the kind of foreigner they want.
As these beautiful faces from the Valais looked up at me and held me as an example, I was saddened and my voice cracked with emotion. I recorded it and I won’t play it. Not ever. It is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. This country I love, admire, respect, nurture, protect, treasure, and adore…these beautiful men and women here and all over this country…
I am the foreigner they don’t want.
The end of the first verse is so beautiful and I was touched when they unexpectedly joined in on this part…
When the Alps glow brightly, pray, free Swiss, in the name of your pious ancestors’ souls, pray to the God that dwells in our noble country.
After my time in the Valais, Sunday found me back at my beloved church in Luzern and the sermon was peculiar to a lot of them.
It wasn’t to me. I knew what he was saying.
“The disciples were afraid of her. She was foreign. She wore clothes they did not recognize. She spoke a language they did not know. She seemed desperate. They told Jesus not to pay attention to her. Jesus did not listen. He tested her faith, he saw she was a believer, he healed her daughter. It is our duty to have faith in humanity and to do so without judgment. It is human nature to be afraid of that which is foreign and we must fight this nature because it is inhumane.”
There is a joke in Texas that anyone not born in Texas is “foreign.” It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek because it’s meant to be funny, but also a bit ostracizing.
I’ll never joke about it again. It’s horrible to be labeled “foreign” by people you just wish would love you.