At 18, I was a self-righteous prick of a girl. I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating. When 9/11 happened, I was one of those awful patriots who got behind the war with the snapping of Dubya’s fingers. I thought Christian meant Republican.
That was me.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but there it is. I used to be That Person you all most likely avoided on Facebook.
I’m not her anymore.
I’ve been learning how to balance. I’m not great at it. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t love America. I mean, look at what she offers me? The very freedom to write a blog like this, where I will soon be telling you all of the ways I also don’t love America… The choice to homeschool my children… Health benefits for my boys when we couldn’t provide them ourselves… My childhood… My family… We’re all American, and I like us. I’ve grown up with all of the luxuries of a spoiled American, and I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you I wasn’t happy about that. I don’t think hating America and my own life will make anyone else’s country or life better.
But, some days, I don’t like America. Some days, they do stupid stuff like SHUT DOWN THE GRAND CANYON. Okay, yes, I know there are bigger atrocities right now. My friend’s husband isn’t getting paid. Actually, quite a few of my friends are currently off with no pay. Some of them are even working with no pay. And, here’s the kicker, they are NOT ALLOWED to get another job. Military families aren’t even getting their death benefits. But the Grand Canyon? Our arrogance in thinking we control the GRAND CANYON? That struck me as the ultimate absurdity.
I’m sorry Congress, I wasn’t there when you created the Grand Canyon. I missed that section in my history book. You don’t have the right to cut off access to God’s creation. Shut down your memorials. That’s a low blow, but they are manmade memorials. You own them. Whatever. You do not own the Grand Canyon. I pretty much think you are all idiots right now, Democrat and Republican alike. I’d like to stand you all along the edge of that glorious canyon and see how big and powerful you feel before the hand of God.
But I digress.
I am reading Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana. There are so many sections that illustrate what I am trying to communicate here. For me, it is difficult to explain a feeling without a story. Even Jesus told stories to get his point across. Sadly, I am lacking in the kinds of stories that make my heart clear on this issue. One day, I will live them. In the meantime, I have to borrow them from others in order to show you myself.
Here, Stephanie writes about seeing a movie about the war in Iraq. She is watching this film in a packed theater in Syria.
“I sit between Michael and a Syrian man, who keeps shifting his feet back and forth on the ground in front of us. I can feel Michael responding to the English. I can feel the other man’s silence and his body reacting each time an Iraqi speaks. Sometimes he hides his face in his hands. Sometimes he looks down at the floor. When a young African-American soldier in the film says that he would never return to Iraq to kill another country’s poor people, he whispers quietly to the screen, Shukran leki. Thank you.”
Did you feel that? Did you, like me, want to reach across time and space to take that Syrian man’s hand?
Later, Stephanie writes:
“Sometimes, when I returned to America, I would dream of that baby screaming. Or the thought of it would come at the strangest times, when I was sitting down to coffee in Boston or looking out a window of the library at the falling snow. That child screaming. And it seemed to me so strange, so utterly surreal, that in the same space of time I could be reading a book and somewhere on the other side of the earth a man was being shot, or a child was in pain, when everything in front of me looked so still and quiet and even, for a brief moment, entirely beautiful.”
This is the balance I struggle to learn. How can my life go on like it does, an American dream, while around the world suffering so often reigns supreme? How can I be genuinely upset by my “first world problems?”
I am though. I’m no saint. I can be completely annoyed by Netflix not working properly and simultaneously long for a month in a monastery in Syria.
How can I be both people? A citizen of America and a citizen of the world?
It is an aching in my gut. I carry it always. Sometimes I avoid books like Stephanie’s. They make me face this wound that I don’t believe will ever heal. They make me long for a life that isn’t in the cards for me right now.
Will I ever learn to be both? Is it possible to love and also loathe the country that made you?