Reading: The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum
Listening to: "Don't Kill My Vibe" by Sigrid
Outside: Gusts of chilly-hot air, summer's turbulence from the ground to the ground-up clouds
"Travel and education make the familiar unfamiliar."
- Ball State University English professor, circa 2003
I was the good kid. A summer-pool-shimmery, high-energy, chlorine-scented child with wispy dirty-blond hair who wanted to read as much as I wanted to make mud pies. I wanted to do good, and be good. I wanted to make my parents proud. I was taught to stand up at my little desk, put my hand over my heart, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in my elementary school classroom every morning, alongside my friends and classmates.
I was taught to believe that America was the best country in the world. You've heard it all: it's the Land of Opportunity. It's the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. If you disliked baseball or apple pie, you were labelled "Un-American," and that was a pejorative term.
It wasn't until I moved to England in September of 2006, at the age of 23, that things became skewed.
When 4th of July rolled around, I was shocked beyond words when one of the customers of the local convenience store I worked in growled at me, "We let you win." He said this with gloating contempt, and I was chilled right to my core. How dare someone say that about Americans, about our glorious triumph on that hallowed day in 1776? How dare someone spit on the American flag like that? I was hurt. I was angry. I was furious.
Over the years, and there have been almost 16 of them, I have learned to chill the fuck out. Along with my estimated 200,000 fellow American ex-Pats living in the UK, I have learned that, no, America is not the greatest country in the world. It is merely obsessed with itself.
It is the jealous, narcissistic ex-husband who won't leave well enough alone.
For instance, Americans abroad are hounded and threatened with fines and time in federal prison if we don't continue to file our taxes, if we don't show them how much money we have in every single named bank account, trust or retirement account kept in foreign banks. America is one of the very, very few developed countries in the world that still requires its citizens abroad to do this. Uncle Sam is staring at us all the time, looming over us, creepy as hell.
America insists its highest baseball tournament must be called the "World Series" when there is no other country involved. It puts itself at the center of it all. It thinks of no others, considers no others. It is everything but united. It is damaging.
Like the obscenely slow uptake on the changing of horrific, went-on-way-too-long slavery laws of the 1860s, and the tragic, wasteful war that followed, in order to fight that change, America is moving slowly yet again. Actually, no, it is moving backwards. In the 50 years that followed Roe Vs. Wade, we are still arguing about women's rights. About gay rights. About gun laws. We are still fighting for equal, affordable healthcare for all.
We are still screaming outside abortion clinics - which, in many or in perhaps all states, will now be closed - at women who have made the incredibly hard but necessary decision to remove a fetus from her womb while at the same time, we are still shedding tears over the children killed at Sandy Hook, Columbine and Uvalde and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more schools, shopping centers, workplaces, gas stations, and yet doing absolutely nothing to change gun policy.
Safety laws have formed to make us buckle up when we get in the car, take off our shoes at airport security, and use the Jaws of Life to get the lids off medicine bottles. Gun laws still do not change.
Slavery took generations before it was finally, finally made illegal.
Women who have made a healthcare decision or an elective decision for abortion are now no longer given that freedom.
Homosexuality is still, even after all these years, stigmatized - why? Why is the LGBTQ+ community still not recognized as actual people with full rights? Why is this still a thing to be argued about?
America is a country full of contradictions.
The Land of the Free. Who is free?
The young man who can't afford his asthma inhaler?
The woman who has no access to birth control?
The gay couple who wishes to tie the knot but can't?
The homeless man who lost his job, his car, and his house, because he got cancer and his insurance wouldn't cover the extortionate cost of treatment?
The seven-year-old who crouches under her school desk, terrified as fuck, because she's participating in yet another pointless Active Shooter Drill?
Are these people free? Are they really?
And here we go again - a woman has to put her needs aside for someone else. Has to obey what other people tell her to do. She is controlled. She is Britney Spears under an endless Conservatorship by her dad.
It should not be this way, and should never be this way.
I look at my American flag, doubting its glory. It is cloth shaped into stars and stripes, and meant to represent honor. Valor. Victory. It is meant to represent freedom. It's a symbol of fighting for what's right.
This flag has become a symbol of darkness. Divisiveness, hatred. Discrimination. Hurt. When did the American flag start to represent stepping on people and destroying their lives? When did things go wrong? Why are basic human rights always so threatened in America? Why must life in America, for millions of people, be so much harder than it is in other developed countries? Or was it always that way? From the very first moment the first white settlers decided to take over the forests of Roanoke and Chesapeake and Manhattan?
When will America ever get its shit together? Come on, America, you can do this. All the other developed countries of the world are way ahead of you, and have been for a long time. It's time to flex those muscles you've bragged so much about and actually do something good for once.
So yeah, I was the good kid. I went along with what everybody said. I didn't rock the boat, I didn't rattle the bars of the cage I didn't realize I was in. I stood up and said the Pledge of Allegiance, lest I be taken to the side, hot and red-faced with embarrassment, and get taken to the Principal's office, where they'd call my parents and I'd get in Big Trouble.
Now, going on 16 years outside of the United States, I'm the bad kid. I have seen free healthcare for all, I have seen more flexible working hours and more paid vacation time, I have seen affordable university education and more libraries, I have seen safer streets, schools, and shopping centers. I have seen equality between men and women, blacks and whites, gay and straight. I drop my daughter off at school in the mornings knowing I will see her again in the afternoon and I will get to ask her about her day. I look at her and know that she will have a choice about what to do for her body, that her healthcare decisions are entirely hers and hers alone. I am confident and proud of the fact that she, and my son, will someday be able to marry the person they love deeply, man or woman. I do not have to worry about their safety now or their legal rights later. I do not carry the crushing weight of that worry around with me like a stone like millions of Americans, tragically, do.
In my view, you can be right or you can be kind. And like I tell my children, if you have a choice between being right and being kind, always choose kind. Always, always choose kind. Even if that means breaking the rules.
Rosa Parks refused to move from that seat.
Human rights are a thing, people, and we should do everything we can to uphold them.
Happy Saturday, everyone.