I had a blog post prepared for today, but in the end I switched it out.
I always listen to American public radio while doing the dishes. It’s one way of staying in touch with what’s happening in my country while living so far away. Over the past month, there have been a number of pieces commemorating the events of 9/11. Every time I hear one of these pieces, I cry. In part because I’m a human waterworks machine, and in part because the pain and the sorrow of the people who lived through that day is still so raw, immediate, and relatable.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t lose a family member or close friend. I was more than 700 miles away from Manhattan in East Grand Rapids, Michigan; 650 miles away from the Pentagon, 500 miles away from Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I was a freshman in high school,14 years old and sitting in my first hour Spanish class when my teacher turned on the television.
Since then, war. Since then, fear. Since then, a heightened awareness of the never-ending tangle of global politics and their effects.
I imagine that it has always been easy to both love and hate Americans; thanks to McDonalds and Hollywood movies, our popular culture is everywhere. So are agents of our government, whether or not they reveal themselves as such. That’s the way it is in our increasingly globalized world.
As an expat, you feel the hard edge of another nation’s perception of your country more sharply than you do when you’re home, surrounded by your own. I’ve lived abroad in three different countries now, and every time I’ve been called upon to answer for the actions of my country.
Having to defend the United States while out at a bar gets annoying after awhile, but I would never trade in my citizenship. I, too, am frustrated by my country at times. I, too, can see problems and areas for improvement. At different times, I have felt my Americanness both as a source of pride and of embarrassment. At the end of the day, though, it’s where I come from. It’s who I am.
It’s easy living in Sweden as an American, though. In general, people here have a positive view of Americans. I’ve never felt more welcome as a foreign national living abroad and have never been less suspected or accused of wrongdoing. Many Swedes have traveled and lived in the United States, and they go out of their way to make me feel comfortable by speaking English. Thank you, Sweden, for making me feel so welcome.
On this day of both mourning and remembrance, I am reminded how lucky I am to be alive, to be healthy, to live in a country where I feel safe and secure. How lucky it is that my family and friends are safe and healthy, and that even while I miss them, I don’t have to worry for their safety. How lucky I am to be in love and to have experienced so much love throughout my life.
Leaving aside all fears of being called cheesy, my wish for the next ten years is that we all do what we can as individuals, as communities, and as nations to change the world for the better. To do what we can to alleviate physical suffering, and to inspire hope and action where there has been fear and despair. To shift the balance at least a little towards love. To live the lives we wish all those who died ten years ago and in the aftermath of 9/11 could have lived.