Just finished my first day back in Europe. O France, how I’ve missed you! La mode de vie me convient beaucoup plus que celle des Etats Unis, mais la maniere de pensee, peut-etre pas. The way of living in France suits me much more than that of the United States, but the way of thinking, maybe not. Apparently, I still speak French! Ouaoh/Wow!
I’m beginning to think that home isn’t finding a city, culture, organization, or neighborhood that perfectly suits you, it is about creating community wherever you are. In order to do that, you do have to know who you are, which isn’t so much about choosing a category and squishing yourself to fit it (Democrat/Republican/Libertarian come to mind) as it is about defining what is important to you. Where you come from is going to have a huge impact on that, but it is really what you choose to honor from your past that gives meaning to your life today. You can’t change the way you were raised or things that have happened in your life, but you can decide how it is going to define your values instead of letting those events define you. I had never really thought of myself as that much of a religious person or good Catholic before going to France, but once I went to church and saw the emptiness of people there and realized how meaningful it was for me to practice my religion, it changed my perspective on that. I was raised Catholci and my family is practicing but not terribly strict, and I have learned all I could about tons of world religions and looking for the meaning of life in self-help books and all of that, butit’s the fact that I chose to continue practicing as an adult, far away from those roots that surprised me with the depth of my belief. Same goes for humor- it is one of those things that is difficult to translate from one culture to another. My dad has the driest sense of humor ever and makes reference to all kinds of he-man American culture stuff, and is not really macho but hypermasculine in the sense of never drinking through a straw. Some of those aspects of culture which are so central to who we are and how we see the world are just particular to our roots, should we choose to accept them. I will never get another father, and what it means to be a man, and to be hilarious, will always be defined by him. I am lucky to have such a great dad I love so dearly, and I hope for people who don’t have that experience they can shake off the dust of the past and chart a new course. But for me, like the religion I found still resonated at my deepest core, I choose to affirm those elements of my background. It’s not like having a dry sense of humor is a deep moral philosophical choice, but it just the way I am, largely thanks to my dad, who got it from well, American culture.
The more I travel, the more I appreciate Barack Obama’s struggle for identity. Whatever you may think of him as a President, he does really exemplify choosing one’s place in the world out of many possible options which I think is archetypically American. More and more, I find my sense of being American coming not just from John Wayne references and our cowboy approach to capitalism, but from the idea of constantly stiving to do the best you can with your individual lie and the freedom to do any way you choose, that doesn’t infringe on the lives of others. I also think of being American as being part of something greater than yourself, with the dreams of immigrants and fighting for freedom and the ability and right of the people to govern themselves as parts of a larger faith in making dreams reality. Disney brought the world so many stories of dreams coming true, if you just believe, work hard, and connect to something greater than yourself, whether pixie dust or “the kings of the past” from Lion King or the ideal of inner beauty from Beauty and the Beast (my absolute fav <3) No matter how much I love Europe, I will always be proud to be an American, as jingoistic as that may sound to continental ears. I don’t think it is offensively nationalist to say that, because I am not saying I believe in a shared ethnic history or received homogenous culture norms, but a grander idea of freedom, democracy, and individuality. America DOES have a special place in the world, not just because I listen to the same soft rock in a cab in Paris as in NJ due to “mondialisation” (globalization), but because every where you go, people know what it means to wish upon a star and dream the American dream. We are an inspiration to the world, and I am saying that not out of conservative, closed minded “my country is better than yours,” thinking, but out of a real appreciation for all cultures and places, the special role the American one, which is also my own, plays.
I guess what it comes down to is I can’t get my identity or set of roots from any one tribe, group of people, or even a place. I have to do something much harder, which is figure out what I really believe and want to base my life on. That is what is going to give me those life long friends, not just having watched the same cartoons growing up, but truly, however non-PC it may sound, there are times when it is such a relief to be around people with similar experiences because they also tend to have shared values. Completely unrelated to nation-state, the people I really jive with in worldview in my program tend to have taught English abroad. I think a lot of us have really similar thoughts on the importance of great life experiences over more material accomplishments and because we are also in business school, a resourceful, somewhat pro-business, practical mindset as well. Since I don’t really connect with people on the basis of liking the same sports team or watching reality shows (sorry, I do sound like a snob but sometimes I am sad I just don’t belong to those clubs everyone else can seem to) it is really a pleasure to find those people. I feel like I am on the right track to finding home when I meet them.
Woke up above London, sleeping in Paris tonight- yes, this is the good life. But not because of where, or even because I am crossing shit off my bucketlist like nobody’s business. It is the good life because every day I look for meaning and purpose and humanity, and every day, I find it. Not always with the same ease, and not always with my rose-colored glasses still intact, but I always can say i have “carpe diem”ed, and that’s what it is all about anyway.