Seeing “home” through a different lens

5 07 2012

It was Independence Day this week, the day when all red-blooded ‘Mericans – at home and abroad – celebrate with fireworks and barbecues and the red-white-and-blue. On July 4th 236 years ago a bunch of smart guys in wigs and knickerbockers told the Brits to go stuff it, and founded their own country.

Recycled t-shirt.

I am also one of those who celebrated with a slab of seared beef and a fine bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon. But I live overseas. No fireworks show on TV or outside my window, not even a sparkler within reach. But that makes me no less American. The U.S. is my home, Europe is where I am currently living.

Why? It just kind of happened that way. I finished my Master’s degree in 1992, just as the first George Bush was wreaking havoc on the economy. I couldn’t find a job at home so I took off and found a career elsewhere. But I have every intention of returning someday.

So for the past 20 years I have observed life in America from across the pond, sometimes with amusement and sometimes with disillusionment. Sometimes with envy and sometimes with sadness. Often, I wonder just how much it has changed in these years I have lived abroad, and if I will ever feel at home there again.

An squabble on Facebook overnight prompted me to think about this once again, intensely. A FB friend of mine, surely blinded by the sudden rediscovered patriotism that hits every American squarely in the gut as s/he watches fireworks over the Washington Mall and hears emotional renditions of the Star Spangled Banner, posted this comment:

Watching the DC July 4 show on TV. Every year it overwhelms me. I am honored and proud to be an American. Can someone explain to me why we are now trying to become Europe? We have fought long and hard for the freedoms and privileges of this beautiful, free country!

A wise woman friend of hers responded a short time later:

I don’t think I follow you. I think we’re just trying to secure an equal opportunity for a happy and healthy future for ALL our citizens, not just the wealthy ones.

It was July 5th by the time I saw these and added my own two cents:

Not quite following either… Last time I looked, Europe was also beautiful and free… Wouldn’t be living here if it wasn’t!

Upon which I got this slap in the face from the original poster:

The economics don’t work. And the resulting entitlement is disastrous. My immigrant grandparents would be disappointed.

And I’m thinking … “Lady, have you ever even been to Europe? Do you even know what the hell you are talking about? Could you locate Europe on a map? And your immigrant grandparents – they probably had really good reasons for leaving Europe during the Second World War… sooooo… what’s your point, exactly?”

This same FB friend already reproached me last week for celebrating the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, writing something to the effect of: “Those of us who have to pay aren’t happy about this at all.”

Of course, this could just be a single slanted opinion from a single self-centered person. But I get the sneaky feeling that there are a whole bunch of folks in the U.S. who think this way.

So I am asking myself today – what happened to the solidarity and the kindness and the helpful, open, optimistic and accepting attitude I always remember Americans by? What happened to the mutual support, the looking out for one another, the spontaneous neighborliness and the caring for strangers that I remember from growing up in a small community in the Northeast? What happened to them? Where did they go?

Maybe I just need to de-friend this person on FB. But when I finally do find a way to live and exist in the United States again, with some kind of financial security, when I find a job I can live off of, with guaranteed health insurance and a pension that I will work hard for, that will still be there when I retire, whenever and wherever that may be: is this the kind of selfishness and ignorance I’m going to have to deal with? Is everyone like this? Will I even recognize this place anymore? This place I’ve always called “home”?

Advertisements




Gigathlon 2012 by the numbers

2 07 2012

Our mountain-biker said it best, just after he crossed the finish line covered from head to toe in mud: “All you have to do is shut off your brain.”

Of course, he was talking about the biking leg of Gigathlon 2012, this past weekend’s athletic extravaganza in the Swiss midlands, and about how torrential downpours and impending darkness turned his route into a rather messy and slippery lottery.

Our mud-splattered mountain-biking hero after crossing the finish line.

(The second part of the sentence was: “Let go of the brakes, point the bike downhill and hope there is no tree in front of you.” Our swimmer responded: “That bit about the brain – that’s the crucial difference between men and women.”)

But what he said really was valid for all of us who made up the “Flying Five,” a rag-tag group of over-39 amateurs, tossed together by fate, self-discipline and the ambition to overcome physical and psychological limits. Our goal: to swim, cycle, skate, mountain-bike and run to the point of exhaustion, to complete the two-day endurance race 1) uninjured and 2) within the allotted time frame.

And we did both, crossing the finish line together at 11pm on Sunday evening, 40 1/2 hours after the starters’ gun went off. We had spent two days competing in extreme weather conditions – day one was hot and humid, day two blessed us with fog, rain and hail – and sleeping in a tent whipped by one of Switzerland’s most destructive overnight thunderstorms in years.

There were many times in the past couple of days when we all just shut off our brains.

Sunday morning, 730am: wet, wet, wet.

You read about my preparation for this year’s race a few weeks ago, and now I could give you a play-by-play like I did last year, with the highlights and low-lights, the dramatic moments of pain and agony and the equally dramatic moments of indescribable adrenaline-induced euphoria. Gigathlon 2012 had all that too, trust me. But this time I will just stick to the numbers; they also tell the story of our exceptionally active, life-affirming weekend.

First the team:

Hours, minutes and seconds the five of us were underway in competition:  30:27:37

Hours, minutes and seconds the winning team beat us by: 11:24:00

Rank at the end of day one (out of 1,000 “teams of five”): 756

Final rank after two days of competition: 723

Distance skated, swam, mountain-biked, run and cycled: 460km/287.5mi

Temperature on Saturday: 34 C/93.2 F

Thunderstorms experienced on Sunday: 3

Beers consumed on Saturday: 2

Beers consumed on Sunday: 8

Accidents: 0

And I know you people also want to hear about my personal statistics for the weekend, so here goes:

Distance skated: 92km/57.5mi

Hours slept on the campground (two nights): 6

Times I felt like quitting on Saturday: 4

Times I felt like quitting on Sunday: 0

Ball bearings trashed: 16

Accidents witnessed: 5

Pasta meals consumed: 3

Sports energy gel tubes consumed while skating: 3

Blisters: 4

Toenails lost: 1

Hours slept after getting home (one night): 11

**********************

Team Flying Five….. before…..

…. and after.

A HUGE, HUGE thank you to: Martina – our team captain and tough-as-nails cyclist, Raphaela – our running goddess, Beat – our meerkat-like mountain-biker, and Reto – our swimmer who rescued the team’s ranking on both days. You guys were a whole lot of fun to be around, even when the things got really, really tough. You were the reason I kept on going.

(Anyone up for Gigathlon 2013?)