It was roughly at this moment—just as things could have gone hideously south—that a moment of grace began to shine through the fog of nerves and bureaucratic repartee. It happened so swiftly that I was hardly able to catch it. When did we go from showing her pictures of our wedding and handing over proofs of cohabitation to discussing the interviewer’s three (or was it four) children? When did we start discussing our future children? Had we considered surrogacy? Were we thinking of adoption? And then the next thing I knew, the interviewer was saying: “I’m going to go ahead and approve your application…”

I could have wept. It was all so humane. I thought of the other places I had known, places I belonged to: Pakistan, where my father’s assassin was celebrated; India, which was busy demanding pledges of loyalty from university students. I thought of my cold, loveless relationship with Britain.

Then I thought of America, and a wave of optimism came over me. This is how a country earns the love of its citizens: It ennobles their relationships; it takes seriously their happiness; it acts on the assumption that people are basically good and, if given half a chance, will realize their better natures. Most of all, it creates the conditions—even here, in this dreary government office—for them to do so.