The Love We Share: An American Expat Confronts Home from Afar (Part 1 of 2)

It is a difficult thing to be proud to be an American and to love my home right now. Because I am. And I do. From a continent, an ocean and another continent away, I watch pain on fire. From orderly and sanitized Stuttgart, the fear licks my ear from the phone. The voices of my family and friends are caught in not only the global experience of the Corona virus, but in our specific and seemingly endless theater of history repeating. The old wounds have never healed, for we do not admit we are hurt. What do we say? Get over it already. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Or, we tell people who are hurting to get over it. We still bathe in the old blood of our original sins. Namely, the eradication of the native people and the enslavement of another. After that, the inequities piled up regardless of race because we are still not a classless society.

I say that we Americans all love each other, even if we don’t necessarily like each other. And in Germany, it seems like they all like each other, but they do not love each other in that way. But the way we Americans love each other, this unique and precious quality that was always ours to admire, has been taken for granted.

What does it mean to be an American? We are proud of our work ethic. First and foremost, we work hard. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. It’s a straight truth. There is one religion and one official language that unites us all, and it is work. Having lived in Europe for a couple years, I can tell you this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Americans have an immense pride in how much we can survive pandemonium. Not so secretly but very guiltily, I admit that like many of my countrymen, I am addicted to chaos. We all don’t mind shit being a little (or very) fucked up. We like to see how we measure up, how we can overcome any obstacle. We don’t let ourselves ponder the turmoil, the overwhelming harshness of life and the endless hustling to survive in the richest country on Earth.

There is nothing as euphoric as being flush with cash in the States. Oh, those (short-lived) hedonistic times in Portland when my husband and I were financially flooded. However, the highs are always inevitably followed by lows. Getting laid off and suddenly wondering how long you can pay rent until you are living in your car or on the street is not an uncommon experience. We love the gamble.

Besides our gambler’s hearts, we are too proud of our ability to withstand pain. We say smugly, whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Let me brag about how my parents used to beat the shit out of me. Go pick a switch. Kids these days aren’t raised with the rod, the way it should be. Survivor pride.

Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger? How about whatever doesn’t kill me assuredly hurts, nonetheless? We never ask, why does it keep trying to kill me?

But I did start to ask.

I stand back and darkly marvel at my homeland. Some say, I don’t even recognize my America anymore. But I do. I do all too well. Our love and toughness and future-mindedness. We took it for granted that our love for each other could withstand any test. But it was always us we had to fear. What has ever been more deadly? A World War? A Cold War? Or our Civil War? I feel we are in some bizarre kind of hybrid Cold Civil War right now. As cold and civil as war could ever really be.

I don’t know how to make sense of it all. Our fierce and real love for each other — and how swiftly and deeply we cut each other as well. Since we cannot bear to look at where our aggression springs from, we can never end the cycle once and for all.

Part 2 will be posted soon.

This is an excerpt from my memoir under construction.

2 responses to “The Love We Share: An American Expat Confronts Home from Afar (Part 1 of 2)

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