Sometimes you just have to write…

Big Stuff (for me!)

Over the last several weeks I’ve blogged about all sorts of things – a Theory of Knowledge workshop I attended in Barcelona, whether or not I missed the US, procrastination, the alternative treatment I’m undergoing to cure my fear of flying – but I just realized that I haven’t blogged about the Big Stuff that’s happening in my life. I’ll write about one of them now, and post the other within a few days.

Big Stuff #1: I’m going to the US in a couple of weeks and staying for a month. This is new and different for me in a couple of ways. First of all, I haven’t been back there in four years, and it feels like even longer.

Despite the fact that I keep up with US news, and that I teach American Studies here in the Netherlands, I have never felt so disconnected from the US as I do now. I look at the trip with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The excitement, of course, is at experiencing some of the things I miss and revisiting some familiar places and faces. The trepidation is harder to put into words. I think it comes down to feeling like I’m a stranger there. For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m going home; I feel like I’ll be visiting a new country.

This is partly, I think, because I’ll be spending much of the visit in a part of the US I am not familiar with: Washington state. This trip is not a holiday, believe it or not. I’m serving as a sort of travel leader for a group of students, all future English teachers, all adults, but all filling a requirement to spend a bit of time in an English-speaking country. It’s the blind leading the blind, since I don’t feel like I know the place any better than they do.

And I suppose I feel like I’ll be visiting a new country partly because of my sense that the US has changed in some really fundamental ways. I already noticed this when I visited the year after 9-11 and was astonished to see the sheer number of American flags waving in my old neighborhood: San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, home of the hippie movement, the quintessential anti-establishment neighborhood. I was shocked at the often aggressive nationalism many people were expressing. On my next visit, in about 2005, I think, I was struck by the backdrop of fear that seemed to inform many Americans’ view of the world around them. My last visit, in 2009, was primarily to visit my 25th college reunion, so that was more about renewing friendships than observing the state of the nation.

But somehow the US has changed beyond what I remember about the place. The acrimonious presidential campaign, with its deep levels of nastiness and bitterness and polarization. The school shooting in Connecticut, and the shrill polemics that resemble debate, but where no one is hearing anyone else’s arguments. The fear of economic defeat and decline. This is not the US I remember. The US I remember had ideals, and optimism. From this distance, I’m not seeing that anymore. Perhaps I’ll be wrong, and it’ll still be there. I hope so.

The other reason this trip is different is that I haven’t been away from my husband for this long in many years. My husband and I met in the 1980’s in Malawi, where I was serving in the Peace Corps. When my contract finished and I went home, we carried on a long-distance relationship for almost three years before we finally were able to live on the same continent together and then eventually get married. Since then we haven’t been apart for more than three weeks at a time.

He and I are very independent people. We have our own activities, friends, and hobbies that we don’t necessarily share – there’s no way in hell I could get interested in stamp collecting, for example. I think that because we spent those years apart – no phone calls, no texts, only letters – we learned to be autonomous individuals, linked by affection but not needing to be joined at the hip. We even vacation separately sometimes. I remember coming home once from two weeks alone in Guatemala and visiting my grandmother. The first thing she asked me, before even saying “Hello,” was “What’s wrong with your marriage?”  

But this trip feels weird; I’ll miss him, for all sorts of reasons. I’ll miss his smell and his eyes: still the warm eyes I fell in love with. I’ll miss the comfort and familiarity of the messy home we’ve made for ourselves here. I’ll miss his thoughtfulness and sense of humor. I miss him when we’re apart for shorter periods, but somehow four weeks seems to exceed some sort of barrier.

And, of course, I’ll miss the kids, though given that lately I live the double whammy of teenagers at work and teenagers at home, I might not miss them that much. A little peace might be nice for a change!

I’ll post Big Stuff #2 in a couple of days.


9 comments on “Big Stuff (for me!)

  1. Michelle | The American Resident
    March 27, 2013

    Wow, powerful post and one I can relate to on so many levels. I am also sad about the changes in the US and only hope it’s a phase that we grow out of. It’s hard seeing the place get so murky. I too would find a month without my husband difficult! And I too think a break from the teens would be quite nice!!

    Enjoy the month. Maybe seeing the States with the fresh eyes of your felloow travellers will help refresh your view of it. That certainly has helped me in the past. 🙂

  2. linda@adventuresinexpatland.com
    March 27, 2013

    I’m with Michelle on this: a thoughtful post that captures mixed feelings about how polarized the US has become. I’m actually here in the US for a visit now, and there is still so much good that I refuse to cede this country to the fringes. I respect differences of opinion, just not the ‘shrill polemics’ you wrote about. Glad you found me on Twitter, adding you to my blogroll. 🙂

  3. rachela
    March 27, 2013

    Linda and Michelle,
    Glad to hear I’m not the only one feeling this way! I’ll let you know what happens and whether my feelings end up less mixed!

  4. Pingback: Big Stuff #2 « RACHEL'S RUMINATIONS

  5. Amy
    March 29, 2013

    This post fills me with sadness. You’ll find that the U.S. has changed in many ways, you’re right about that. But most Americans still love their country and are hoping for the best. Is it just a “phase” or is it something more ominous? I’m afraid to guess. I hope you have a blessed trip, and that you have many good experiences while you’re here.

  6. Alana (@RamblinGarden)
    March 29, 2013

    Thoughtful and scary post. It’s like the analogy of someone who is placed in cool water, then the heat is gradually turned up, and supposedly you can be boiled to death like that because you don’t realize until too late that the water is near boiling! We in the U.S. don’t know how things have changed because we are in the water. I’ve never been out of the United States, but it is clear our spirit is gone and we are not the people we used to be. We are told all the time “we are the best” but I know we aren’t. I don’t think it is a phase – I think we have been defeated on a fundamental level, and are governed now by defeat and fear. Perhaps I need to travel abroad, and not on a tourist’s tour, either.

  7. rachela
    March 29, 2013

    Alana and Amy,

    I like Alana’s analogy about the frog! I hope you’re wrong, though, and that it’s just a phase. I remember when 9/11 happened and Bush insisted that terrorism would not succeed, that it would not change us, but that’s exactly what it did. It quite literally filled us with terror, so the terrorists succeeded. And it is certainly more visible when you look at the US from outside.

    Thanks for reading! I’ll let you know how it goes!


  8. Pingback: A is for April « RACHEL'S RUMINATIONS

  9. Pingback: B is for Blogging « RACHEL'S RUMINATIONS

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This entry was posted on March 26, 2013 by in Family, Travel and tagged , , , , .
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