Let me tell you about my American friends.
I grew up with them, in a little town in Iowa, and they grew up with me.
Each of us is now approaching the age of 50, and some of us have been friends since before we were two. We've lost a few along the way, and they're never far from our minds.
I just saw them last weekend, these American friends of mine. I hadn't seen some of them in more than 20 years. We met at a little cabin nestled among the picturesque hills and valleys in northeast Iowa, not far from the mighty Mississippi River -- a river right smack in the middle of the continent, a river so huge it divides America in half.
That is, it divides the continent in half, but it couldn't divide the people in half. It couldn't divide Americans, because when it comes down to brass tacks, Americans are indivisible, and a river -- even a river as imposing and powerful as the majestic Mississippi -- can only slow us down, it can't stop us from doing the essential things we want to do.
Because Americans see the biggest barriers not as the end of the trail, but as the start. A mighty river is a mere problem to be solved.
You see, Americans build things.
Boats. Bridges and barges. Canals and tunnels. Railroads that span from one coast to the other, with spurs to reach every little town, every village, every fort and factory.
Automobiles. Vehicles that can negotiate any terrain. Farm machinery. Airplanes. Devices that can put the entire world on your desk, or even in the palm of your hand.
Rivers? Huge mountain ranges? Deserts? Giant lakes? The unforgiving heat of summer, the relentless cold of winter ... We can fix that. We can turn those obstacles that impede us into tools that fuel us. We can turn bad into good.
Vast interstate highways, skyscrapers as tall as those mountain ranges, a mind-boggling communications web, entire industries devoted to surviving and thriving -- and while we're surviving, while we're thriving, we'll create entire new industries, just to keep us entertained. Television, movies, music, sports, information. We want it all, and when we want it all, we get it all.
Because we're Americans, and Americans can make magic.
Don't believe me? How does a grandmother in northern Minnesota get bananas and coconuts from the tropics for her dessert recipe? American magic.
How does a hungry salesman in Oklahoma drink Florida orange juice for breakfast and eat Maine lobster for supper? Magic. American magic.
In America, a steelworker in Pennsylvania might die in a car accident, but less than 24 hours later his heart is beating inside the chest of an office worker in Wyoming, because his heart was a perfect match, and it will continue beating for 40 more years.
A grandpa in Arizona can sit in his study and watch his 16-year-old granddaughter in Virginia shoot what would have been the game-winning basket -- but it bounced off the back of the rim. He can watch it live, as it happens. And his heart can break a little as he hears her cry, and sees her kneel down by the free-throw line, covering her face.
And grandpa wipes his own tear away before he smiles at her, into his phone a minute later, and says, "You played well, sweetheart. I'm proud of you. You'll get 'em next time."
In America, we know we'll always get 'em next time.
But back to my old American friends, at that cabin, last weekend.
Though we all came from the same little Iowa town, we're all very different people, and we ended up in all corners of America. A CEO of a tech company in Atlanta, Georgia. A vice-president of a parts supply company in Houston, Texas. An electrician in LaPorte City, Iowa. An artist in Cedar Rapids. A federal immigration officer on the Canadian border. A communication infrastructure specialist in Des Moines. A writer in southeast Iowa.
A couple of us returned to our home town, and made lives there. One is a physical therapist, the other is an advertising specialist and part-time politician.
We each have our own individual worlds, but we are also one entity. No, we are not a melting pot, nor are we an alliance or a confederacy.
We are a collective soul.
Two of us grew up on farms. The rest of us worked on farms at one time or another.
We are German and Irish and Norwegian and Dutch and Welsh and Mexican and Austrian and probably a hundred other things, and all of us had ancestors who, at some time in the past, decided to take a shot and head to America.
Some of my American friends are Catholics, some are Lutherans, some are Methodists -- some of us are other things, or maybe nothing -- because in America, we can worship God any way we want -- or not at all.
Four of us served in the armed forces and defended our nation. All of us snap to attention when the color guard goes by, all of us put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance -- and when we hear the national anthem, we all stand and sing.
Some of us hunt. Some of us ride Harleys. Some of us play in rock and roll bands. Some of us sing in choirs, or train dogs, or perform in community theatre plays. We all love football and beer.
Some of us are Democrats, some of us are Republicans, some of us are none of the above, they don't know, they're going to think about it for a while before they vote.
But all of us vote, because we all know people who have died for that right. And all of us love to complain, and we all believe that if you don't take the time to vote, you don't have any business complaining.
And yes, we've all fought among ourselves from time to time.
But we're still one collective soul.
So when one of us catches a big bass, or gets promoted, or runs in a 10K for charity, we all cheer.
When one of our sons gets married, or one of our daughters graduates from college, we're all happy, as if it were our own kid.
When one of us has a parent die, we all cry a little.
When cancer picks a fight with one of us, it picks a fight with all of us.
These are my American friends.
If you fall behind, they'll pull you back ahead. And if they can't do that, they'll wait for you to catch up.
And when you do, they'll give you a slap on the back.
Or maybe a big, American hug.
That's where the magic comes from.