There are these days when things feel as though they are spinning out of control. Lately, I have been feeling quite Pavlovian concerning the news coming out of America. It's that irrational feeling of knowing there's very little I can do from this distance while at the same time wanting to know every detail of what is happening. It's frustrating and energy draining.
In all the years I have been in Europe, I have never felt as I do now concerning what is happening in my home country. Being American has always carried with it a certain credibility. We're viewed as foreigners but not all "that" foreign. Americans are made to feel welcome in Europe. Memory goes back a long way, especially here in Germany, where American soldiers (such as my father) and American money gave the country back its honor after it had singlehandedly tried to destroy humanity.
There was the unbelievable outpouring of sympathy and empathy after 911. I was in Copenhagen with my visiting sister when the planes hit the buildings. We were surrounded by warmth and kindness on Danish streets. I will never forget, a week later, standing in the Hamburg City Hall Square and hearing America The Beautiful being played by trumpeteers from the windows of City Hall to a crowd of over 20,000. I will never forget my neighbors leaving flowers by my door, or the black-banded American flag that was hung in our apartment building's atrium window.
As if to say, "Be gentle. An American lives here."
Things changed with the war in Iraq and the bogus WMD debacle. Americans abroad felt the icy winds from the decisions our country was making, so out of step with the rest of the free world. American expats are always the country's first line of street diplomacy. I personally spent a lot of time trying to explain a policy I completely disagreed with, until I finally stopped, and simply shrugged.
But there has been nothing to prepare me for what's happening now. The floor feels like it's cracking. Reality has shifted. Up is down. The country I know and love has been hijacked by an evil, cowardly force that insists running it into a wall and destroying all that is good about it is the only way to go.
I no longer shrug. I have a voice. I will speak out against what I see as The American Travesty. And I will speak about it to every single person who will listen.
And I will do that out of patriotism.
I don't know any American expats who are not patriotic. But when the patriotism at home starts looking like propaganda that's starved of any common sense, it no longer is defensible and no longer something that I can abide. I personally have been able to see this divide and have watched it with growing alarm for years. From a distance, America's relationship with itself and the world has felt tenuous for years.
To love a country and watch forces within that country shatter all that is good without the awareness of what is truly being sacrificed (its soul), and to do that from a distance has been horrifying.
I have worried and lost a great deal of sleep as this spiral has continued. My family. My friends. What will happen? Health insurance? Safety? Violence? Hatred on the streets? My niece is a teacher in a public high school in a fairly rural area. I can't even focus too much on that or I'd never really sleep.
And now, the persecution of immigrants and US residents?
But I also know there is nothing I can do except be present in my own life and be as loving and kind and respectful as I can. That is what I believe a good American expat must do right now: represent the good things that America has always stood for, and to let the rest go. I can volunteer to help some of the 1.5 million Syrian immigrants my resident country has taken in (I am so proud of Germany for the grand size of its heart and the example it is setting for the rest of the free world - including America).
More I can really not do.
Except state my opinion. I will do that.
And resist. I will most certainly do that.
I spent Sunday contemplating all of this in my pottery studio. I decided today would be a day of repetitive practice. Bowl after bowl. I need to center.
My country is spinning.
I am spinning.
May all be well.