I have long been someone who was not proud to be American. I still don’t think I am; I still feel like singing the national anthem at baseball games is a bit brain-washy, and I don’t care much for patriotic pins or clothing. I have long focused on all the negativities of our culture and nation-state: our double-downs, our super-sized everything, our big cars, total and complete reliance on oil, our frenzied pace of life, our fast-food and obesity, our laziness, our disregard for the environment, our often complete lack of knowledge and understanding of other cultures and religions, our ignorance, our exceptionalism, our loudness, our penchant to overwork ourselves with long hours, commutes, and short vacations, how we turned human well-being into a profit scheme, our undying belief that capitalism and free markets will solve all our problems, our two-timing protectionist tariffs, our multiple flatscreen TVs per home, our need to constantly spend expendable income on entertainment, clothes without thinking twice of the child sweatshop labor that made our cheap Wal-Mart prices possible, our tendency to vote based on wild emotions and accusations rather than learning facts, our grave foreign policy blunders. If I was abroad I would sneer at these typical Americans, and turn to my French-Canadian roots if asked. I would try to be different; to blend in. I much prefer the Spanish Estadounidense to our assuming use of “American” as if North America, and the United States, is the only or greatest America.
And yet, like my constant wandering, this too, began to change. Just as we’re leaving, I begin to understand what I’ll be missing, in ways I never realized before. Before when I traveled; I didn’t miss my family all that much, and I would certainly never have considered not going or staying nearby to be closer to them. Not that I don’t dearly love and cherish my family; I just don’t often get homesick. Now, I wonder about that. I wonder how much longer my parents will be around; I wonder if my nieces and nephew will know their aunt. I wonder when I’ll see my brother again. I have a longing to just be able to bring everyone together in one place. One part of me feels “tied down” by this responsibility; another takes joy in the task to love freely. This makes going more difficult. It’s not just family that makes me think twice either. I have no illusions about how friendships fair over long distances and time. The so-called “cream of the crop” will remain, but many will slowly fade into the distance, only seen intermittently on Facebook updates; soon it will be so long that making plans to reunite will be awkward and futile. Since being content with staying, we’ve made countless new friendships, and I wonder how they’ll fare.
Friends and family aren’t all, either. I’ve learned to appreciate, many, many things about our American culture. It’s ironic that I’ve made these discoveries while staying put for a few years, and not while abroad, but it’s happened nonetheless. I appreciate that I know my way around, and that if I need to ask for directions; I can, and I will understand the answer. I am proud to one who can offer directions (at least sometimes…). I appreciate our 24-hour grocery store, using my debit card sans fees, having internet in our house and using a cell phone to make calls and send texts. Once I organized a study abroad program for a group of Parisian students visiting Seattle, and their leader remarked “Americans are so friendly, not like other places. And they have the cutest accent in French.” I was shocked, us…butchering their beautiful language…cute? Friendly? I love our rhythm of interactions and having the freedom to drive my car to the mountains or take a weekend get-away. Being able to find out almost anything on the internet, buy books in a bookstore, and have conversations with people I meet. I love S’mores and BBQs, bagels, peanut-butter and jelly, chocolate chip cookies, multigrain Cheerios, hot dogs, sandwiches, iced americanos, baseball games, and the vibe of our parties and gatherings. I love the pulse of Seattle; of the northwest. I love jeans and fleece, being able to go to the doctor.
Its little things I notice these days; the comfort of familiarity with our daily interactions and customs, our favorite summer dishes. I finally feel like I belong somewhere; like I fit in. And yet, even when (if?) we do come back from this adventure, we’ll be living in Portland, Oregon, and we’ll have to start over once again, though this time we’ll have great family and friends nearby. Theoretically I’ll be enrolling in an amazing graduate program at Portland State, and once again looking for a job. I once would never think twice about these things; I’d be so excited for the adventure to come I wouldn’t notice, and yet now, now that I’ve finally learned to be content with staying, I am fully aware of what I’ll be leaving behind. I feel like Abram when he’s called to leave Ur: why leave here, it’s great?! We have to remember God’s promises, have faith that the places He leads us will be better than we can imagine; that home is in Christ and each other, that life is about the journey, not the destination.