Published: April 19th 2007April 19th 2007
Rachel comes home
After conquering Europe, Rachel retires to Texas.
"You cant appreciate home 'till you've left it, money 'till its spent, your wife 'till she's joined a womans club, nor Old Glory 'till you see it hanging on a broomstick on the shanty of a consul in a foreign town". -O. Henry
In just the same way, I have realized that I didn't truly appreciate America until I left her. Being away for seven months I have defended her, described her, and denied her many times over. It has led me to think, "what is America anyway? What does it mean to be an American?"
The best example I have found is from John Irving's book, A Prayer for Owen Meany. Here he describes Marilyn Monroe:
"She was just like our whole country-not quite young anymore, but not old either; a little breathless, very beautiful, maybe a little stupid, maybe a lot smarter than she seemed...She was never quite happy, she was always a little over-weight. She was just like our whole country."
America is impossible to define and difficult to explain. It is such a massive place with incredible diversity full of a melting pot of people. It houses all of the climates in
the world: tundra, desert, mountain, and plains. A slideshow of images race through my head when I think about what America looks like. However, America is made up of more than just geography. America is a homeland for many different people with diverse thoughts, attitudes, cultures and habits.
After being away from her, I first began to despise certain things. Why do Americans drive such ridiculously expensive and massive cars? Do we really need multiple refrigerators and personal TVs for every room? The consumption in America sickened me. It was so unnecessary, after seeing the more modest way other people in the world are living, without air conditioning or mega supermarkets. People who live in still-developing nations have none of these things. They are people who are happy to have reliable mail service and enough food to eat. I compared it to my country, where gluttony was a way of life and there was no shortage of food in my frame of reference.
But then I realized that part of the beauty of America is that we do have an abundance. And that we have choices. We work hard, and all have the ideal of "The
American Dream" inside of us: to own a home, to drive a car, the freedom to have children and live in a land where speaking and writing is not oppressed. Freedom of expression, freedom to practice whatever religion we choose. This is what makes America great. Freedom.
In many situations, being an American doesn't make me any different than anyone else. It doesn't matter that I come from the most powerful country in the world. It doesn't matter that I have more educational opportunities. The differences are outweighed by the similarities. We are all human beings, divided by geographic landscape and self-imposed boundaries like culture and religion. Every day, people all over the world are walking around, going to work, and coming home. The French worry, lights turn on in Amsterdam, cars race through Budapest and clouds roll over Munich-just like everywhere else. We are all breathing the same air. We are all looking up at the same sky. We all live on the same planet.
We have some of the same problems other countries are experiencing: Immigration, taxes, and social security issues. Though they may run on different systems than we do; there is universal
corruption, bad politicians, and underpaid workers in every country. America is not perfect. But to me, America is home.
America is home. And home is comfort. Home is where you keep your stuff, but more than that, home is where you can be yourself. Home is where your world begins. Its where you know all of the radio stations by heart and where you can listen to country music. Home is familiar. It is the ability to fully understand street signs and directions. Home is where you feel safe and secure. Its where you can lower your guard and and feel like you belong. Home is comfort.
I have been a guest in foreign places for seven months. I have been an outsider, have not spoken the local language (though I always try), and have experienced foreign things every single day. I have been out of my comfort zone for the better part of a year. And now Im coming home. Coming back to comfort. Coming back to the safety and security of my own place. America.