Posts Tagged ‘America’

Just One More

Posted: July 26, 2011 in Sundry and Various
Tags: , , ,

This is going to be another brief and sappy post. Brace yourselves.

In almost exactly a month, I’m leaving Edinburgh.  I’m going back to America, back home, to my parents, my family, some remarkable friends, my state, my nation.  I’m looking forward to it, seeing people I haven’t seen, seeing a country I’ve been away from for a year, hearing American voices, eating chili dogs.  Hell, I even miss high fructose corn syrup.

Last week, I had a mini freakout.  Edinburgh suddenly felt ridiculous.  The tourists are impossible for a city of this size.  The road works are confusing.  The preparations for the festival seem to be put there specifically to make life difficult for anyone trying to live in this town.  It’s still cold at the end of July; the sun only makes sporadic appearances.  The pubs close too early.  I hated Edinburgh.  Good riddance that I’m leaving, I thought.  To hell with it.

Which is not true, of course.  I don’t hate Edinburgh.  I’m not in love with it, like some of my friends are, but I don’t hate it.  I’ve enjoyed living here, all things considered.  I like the pubs and the wandering narrow streets, the weird directions, the gothic buildings.  I love the strange otherworldliness of Old Town and the clean Georgian elegance of New Town.  I even kind of love the crowds, which aren’t so bad once you get off the Royal Mile.  I’m ready to leave the city, but I actually think I’ll miss it.

But the worst part is the part that I really don’t want to deal with, or think about.  It’s the people.  I will miss the people.  I’ll miss getting a phone call at 9:30 with those fatal words ‘let’s just go out for one’.  I’ll miss the blow-out parties at Lindsay’s flat.  I’ll miss lying in the Meadows on those rare sunny days.  I’ll miss the coffees we’ve drunk.  I’ll miss the drunkenness and the sobriety.  I’ll miss the faces of people I know so well.  I’ll miss going to the Vue on Saturdays, and getting drunk on Tuesday afternoon (or Wednesday or Thursday for that matter).  I’ll miss sitting down in a pub and the smiles when someone says ‘I wrote a thousand words today!’ I’ll miss the stories.

I’ve left places before.  I’ve left friends before.  Clinton, St. Andrews, New York and now Edinburgh.  People scattered across the world in random nations, states, provinces.  Keeping in touch by facebook.  Hearing about friends getting married, or losing loves, or getting a job, a home, another life.  I’ve managed to stay in contact with a lot of people, and I plan on seeing them all again.  But it’s never the same.  Not because people change too much.  Hell, I’ve got friends I’ve known since middle school and, despite growing up, we’re still friends.  But it’s never the same because something has always ended.  A year at graduate school, at college, at high school.  We grow up and stay close, but the experience cannot be repeated.

All of the philosophical stuff comes out at times like this.  Life is ephemeral.  We only have the moments as they happen and then they are gone.  We should not try to hang on to them too tightly, for we will only live in the past.  All I can think right now, though, is that a good friend is about to leave to go home.  She’s not the first to leave; she won’t be the last.  Toasts will be drunk and promises made and, eventually, kept.  It’s not the end; it’s merely another step along the road.  That doesn’t make it any easier.

Let’s go for just one more.

Every year on the 4th of July, I sit down and watch 1776, a musical (!) about the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  It never fails to make me feel good about my nation.  But this year was the first that I actually felt affected by it.  Perhaps this is because I have spent almost year out of America, the longest I have ever been away from home.  I’m used to spending 3-6 months at a time away from home, and have been since I first started attending college at St. Andrews when I was eighteen years old.  But a whole year outside the nation of my birth, and the nation that I still feel a deep and abiding connection to, definitely has affected me.  So on the 4th, watching 1776 had a peculiar resonance with me.

It wasn’t, amazingly enough, about the actual object of the Revolution.  It was about what it means to be an American.  I found myself focusing not on what the characters of Adams, Franklin and Jefferson were saying, but on what their opposition said.  Not that I agree in any way with the opposition, rather that I began to consider what it means to be an American, in all our eccentricities, our values, and our contradictions.  For our nation was born out of contrast and contradiction, a dedication to tradition given us by our British forebears, and a hope for the future and progress that came with not only ceasing to be a part of the British Empire, but also with the curious mix of ethnicities and races that make up the weird and wonderful place of the United States.

This came home to me watching the arguments that 1776 puts forth.  While not the most historically accurate of films, it does give a sense of the very real controversies underlying American independence.  Most specifically for me, it comes in the character of Edward Rutledge, the delegate from South Carolina and one of the leaders (in the movie) of the opposition.

I’ve become positively fascinated by Rutledge, and not just because he gets one of the best songs in the movie (or that John Cullum has one hell of a baritone and looks good in ruffles).  Rather it is because both he and Dickinson, as the most stalwartly opposed to independence, express an element of America that we tend to either vilify or ignore.  ‘Molasses to Rum’, although not historically accurate (the historical Rutledge did not oppose any sort of anti-slavery clause in the Declaration and Thomas Jefferson did not free his slaves until after his death), is a powerful polemic against hypocrisy.  While it is easy to vilify Rutledge as a slave-holder, it is a hard pill to swallow when he points out that commerce in America was built upon slavery.  That while the South may have held the whip, the North reaped the rewards of an economy built on blood and suffering.  As white Americans, there’s not one of us that gets to take the high road on this one.  And as a Northerner with numerous Southern relations and background, I feel quite aware of the question.

But beyond the slavery question, the character of Rutledge provides one of the more interesting points of 1776.   America might be divided along North/South, East/West/Midwest binaries, but we are all (and here’s the bombshell) Americans.  This country does not belong to the flag-waving creationists.  But it also is not the sole property of eastern liberals.  Claiming that one man does not (and cannot) understand another because of the location of his home, the state he was born in, the color of his skin, how long ago his ancestors came to this nation, what his first language is, etc, etc, is quite simply a cop-out.  We won’t take the time to listen.  Not to the pundits or the politicians, but to each other.

This is not to say that we’re all going to agree.  We’re not.  Nor is it to say that we should bow down to ignorance, bigotry, or the curtailing of basic human rights.  But, as Americans, we’re stuck with each other.  I’m not going to move to Canada, like some of my liberal friends have threatened (especially after Bush was elected).  Because this is MY country.  I love America.  And I believe in it enough to want to understand the people here.  I have a strange hope that if we were to only stop, all of us, and face each other as Americans, to accept that we are all a part of the same nation, we might actually discover that we don’t disagree quite as much as we think we do, or that at least those disagreements are not as earth-shattering as we make them out to be.  As it is, we refuse to understand each other.  It’s not because we can’t.  It’s because we won’t.