The Return to America


I’d never been out of the country for three weeks before. I missed my kids like crazy and was happy to come home. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you my return was also tinged with a wrenching disappointment in America.

Three weeks—that’s all—and what does our government do? Sign over all rights and privileges, giving carte blanche to Monsanto. I felt betrayed and disgusted, and that was even before I got to the LA airport and saw our country’s slow, dirty, and unfriendly first-impression entryway in contrast to Australia’s  (and that of every other country I’ve been to) more welcoming and much cleaner version. We are completely paranoid about “terrorists,” but meanwhile we are killing ourselves with our own guns. The rest of the world just shakes its head with pity and confusion. (More people died in America from guns in the few months since the events in Newtown, CT, than were killed on 9/11.)

The other news that made it through to me from afar is that we now have a 1 in 50 rate of autism. One. In. Fifty. One in 50 of our newborns will be diagnosed with autism. We see a lot of headlines and media attention about abortion, but why aren’t we taking better care of the children we DO give birth to?! People all over the world might complain about the cost of organic food (yes, even in Australia!) but every one has to pay up once it’s too late. Everyone except Monsanto.

Or—here is another one—we’re always putting on this big show of “supporting our troops” while our troops are killing themselves at record rates. Why are our troops killing themselves? Is it because we’ve asked them to fight unwinnable wars in places where war just creates even more suffering and rage at America? Is it because we are so busy celebrating the patriotic stereotypes of valor that we don’t want to see that these young people are too afraid to ask for help?

I saw all the Facebook profiles change to red equal signs in support of gay marriage while I was traveling. And yes, I COMPLETELY support gay marriage. But again, why aren’t we just approving it and moving on to real issues that affect our future, such as corruption in Washington and a flawed and outdated economic system that’s crushing us all. After all, what I thought America was always about was FREEDOM. Freedom from religious persecution (remember the pilgrims?). Freedom from rigid class structures that kept the poor poor and the rich rich without working for it. And most important, the freedom to believe anything is possible.

Looking at us from outside in, we are a country that is broken. Fundamentally and deeply broken. But because today we are entertained and today we are fed and today we might be fine, we don’t care what impact our behavior has on the future. We are addicted to violence as pleasure. We celebrate violence in movies and the news as if a show of force is what makes us great. We celebrate greed and corruption in Washington and Wall Street, believing that somehow they represent the American dream.

I’m an optimistic person, generally. But after being away, I return to America experiencing this feeling of disappointment and even shame…this feeling that we are swimming in our own filth and not realizing that it’s made us sick and insane.

Perhaps not the brightest welcome home message, but one worth taking time to pause and consider. The sad irony is that it only takes a few days of being back to sink back into the insanity and believe it’s normal again.

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14 Responses to The Return to America

  1. Donna in Delaware says:

    I know Maria. It is a huge disappointment returning to this country after being abroad and seeing a big contrast in the way that we live, and others overseas. I’ve noticed for years already.

    I know that I will take hits for this, so be it, but, we are a sorry excuse nowadays for a country. I am so tired of discussing this very issue, more often than not, and people can be so mean spirited about it. So I say this, it will not get much better. Call me pessimistic if you will, call me anything you like, but if anyone can see the situation(s) in this country getting better in the next 5 years, let me know how that could be. We are headed straight for destruction, and it’s OUR OWN FAULT! It is as though we can’t think for ourselves anymore, or do what is genuinely right and proper as a nation and as individuals. There are pockets of us still out there that care, and try to do the right thing, but it is not enough!!! Never enough!! I have no more answers. It just doesn’t take a village, it takes a nation! When people overseas asks where I’m from now, I say the Divided States of America.

    When I lived in Canada from 2001-2006, I always wore a Canadian lapel pin. Still do in most cases when I am overseas. I am somewhat ashamed of my own country. Since I am still here, I try to make the best of it and of situations that affect my family, neighbors, friends and myself. I hope that we can try to pull ourselves out of this muck and mire that we have gotten ourselves into over the last 12 years. I sincerely doubt that will happen, but all I have now is hope, it seems to be all that we all have.

  2. Laura Jo K says:

    I don’t have anything insightful to add to it, but I agree and it was very well said. (Even in light of today’s events)

  3. Nikki Lindqvist says:

    Welcome to my world! I married my Swede and moved to Sweden in Dec. 1989. It has been SO painful to watch America fall apart from afar. I think it’s easier to see all the sh#t when you’re not in the middle of it. It has been breaking my heart for years.

    But over the past year or so I’ve come to a new understanding. America WON’T be on top forever. If you back up and look at the history of the world, NO ONE is on top forever. It was actually quite arrogant of me to think we SHOULD be on top forever! So, if you can accept that, it might help lower your blood pressure when you think of these things. It has helped mine.

  4. Donna in Delaware says:

    Nikki, I’ve always said that all Empires fall. Rome, Babylon, England, etc. We are no different, we are not immune. We lost so-called friends in Florida because of what I said, there was more to it though. They did not like what I had to say about their precious USA. So be it, I did not need those type of people in my life anyway, so it was no loss. People need to wake up and get over it, nothing will ever be like it was, move on, but for the better, not the worse.

  5. Donna in Delaware says:

    Oh, and Nikki, don’t feel too bad, you are not the only one who have felt that way, and won’t be the last. Too many still do, and it’s sad. It’s ok to be patriotic, but don’t be blinded by it! The hubris of those in this country is really sickening at times. They WILL learn the hard way, and that shouldn’t be. Maybe it is the only way for them to learn, and wake up!

  6. Donna in Delaware says:

    Thank you Laura Jo K.

  7. Linda says:

    A thoughtful post and well worth reading. I focus on my everyday life to make everyday better where I can. I vote. I write letters (not email) to my representatives. I spend my dollars wisely and purchase only from people/companies whose activities I agree with. I work two jobs. I read history so I know that no one is on top forever, and I’m fine with that – it is the natural course of events. Consumers have more power than we think. We have control over what we allow in our homes and lives. We decide how to react to events and how much control we give other people over our lives. We have to learn to use our power.

  8. Paula Capps says:

    Maria, your column captures it exactly. I tend to let myself get too wound up about it and have to try to let go. I am reminded of it every day. Recently in the town where I spend my weekends, a fast-food chain sponsored “teacher appreciation night” with free French fries to the first 50 people who came. The school, which should be encouraging its kids to eat healthy, embraced it and promoted it as well.

    Your comment about the airports and the welcome to the country they don’t offer is so apt. Penn Station in NYC is such a Hades that I don’t encourage friends to take the train to NYC because I don’t want them to enter our city through that portal, or into that grimy, run-down neighborhood.

    Since I was quite small, I’ve obsessed over how we trash our environment. To me it is the outward sign of all that malaise you describe. I know it can be hard to find the money to paint the house or the fence sometimes, but littering our front yards, our highways, with trash and junk, neglecting our overgrown and rotten, decaying roadsides — it makes a drive in the country feel like a drive through a third world sometimes. I’ve seen it from California to Arkansas to upstate New York. Do you have to go to a national park to see what our beautiful country should look like? I’ve driven through all socio-economic levels of a bunch of European countries, and to my embarrassment, they don’t trash their landscape the way we do.

    Sigh.

  9. Mullein says:

    Welcome home, Maria. I know firsthand how re-entry back into the USA can be somewhat jarring, especially after an idyllic vacation overseas.

    I have to agree, sometimes it certainly seems our country is on the decline… the economy has been so problematic, and big corporations (Monsanto!) have great influences in USA politics, sadly, to the overall detriment of our health.

    A few years ago, when I returned from visiting Indonesia (Java and Bali) and Thailand, I was appalled at the lack of cleanliness in the USA’s airports, in contrast to the airports I’d traveled through while overseas. O’Hare looked quite littered and filthy compared to the care with which Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand maintained their public spaces. As I left the O’Hare headed homewards in a bus, our country just looked “dirty” to me… and this was despite me not seeing the obvious abject poverty that I observed while overseas.

    A friend pointed out that in Indonesia everyone seems to care about the condition of public places. There was always someone cleaning. That’s not true here in the USA. I see folks pitch litter all the time. I once asked someone why she threw litter out of her car – she replied “Why not – it gives the prisoners something to do.”

    And overseas, I often saw art intertwined within everyday existence. I don’t see that as the focus here in the USA… instead, we focus on what I have termed “efficient functionality” – not beauty. For example, a bridge is a just a bridge – no need for it to be permanently embellished with any art or to look “pretty.”

    But what really made me want to comment on this post, Maria, was the part about military suicides.

    NPR is off the mark here, sadly, for when general population suicide rates are compared to the suicide rates of vets/active military, in all age groups the vets/military’s rate of suicide is definitely lower than the general population’s suicide rate.

    But this was not NPR’s focus – and I think it’s unfair to imply that military folks have a greater problem with suicide than the general population, which is what NPR has done. And I normally really like NPR – but I am very disappointed they have done this. Makes me even more committed to the sounds of silence when it comes to “news.”

    So Maria, I ask that you please seek again your optimism. Some situations definitely suck (like the mentally ill using weapons to kill others, or corporations using big bucks to influence legislation to keep their profits high), but Maria, please don’t dance onto the road of despair. Get thee outside, enjoy spring, and focus on the good. Do what you can do, and turn over the rest.

    And welcome home. :)

  10. jim shortz says:

    Nice depressing post
    You can always stay in Austrailia

    PS Organic Gardening Magazine is rip off, very few articles are gardening

  11. JamieLiz says:

    Maria, it’s like you’ve been reading my mind on all of the thoughts expressed in your post. I haven’t been out of the country to return and see the difference, but in the last several years it has been very tempting to just give up, leave, and find a more sane place to live and raise my kids.

  12. Nikki Lindqvist says:

    I can recommend the Nordic countries, JamieLiz, BUT… the American culture is VERY influential. Troublingly (if that’s a word) so. It breaks my heart when I see some of the crappy American stuff come here (Sweden) and get accepted.

  13. Gina says:

    “… because today we are entertained and today we are fed and today we might be fine, we don’t care what impact our behavior has on the future. ” (Maria)

    This is so sad, but true. I have good, caring, compassionate, loving friends and family; good people, who just don’t see that just because it is easier, is readily available, and APPEARS to work well (weed free seeds, lawn chemicals, gas hog vehicles, prepackaged food that is loaded with chemical names that we cannot even pronounce, as well as prepackaged, warmed up, food that is provided for our public school children instead of real food that is prepared for them), it is not always a good thing. I think there is a misconception in our country that our government would be shielding us and would not “allow to be sold” anything that could truly harm us. My own family members believe that if it can be sold in a store, it can’t be that bad for you, so they continue to buy. If it takes more time to cook, to grow, or to tend to, they aren’t doing it! I’m not sure that the inconvenience would ever be worth to them the difference that could be made for future generations. Out of sight and out of mind.

    To me, it’s such a huge problem that affects so many areas that who would know where to start? I do my best but I do worry about the future. I worry that there are not enough of US to make a difference.

  14. canadiandalek says:

    I have no idea how or why this site ended up in front of me,but after giving it a quick read I am once again amazed how stupid some Americans are. To follow the word of Maria the Magnificent without question is just one of many problems that the sheeple of America have. You do not question the fact that she makes money off of your misery and ignorance. That organic food will save the planet is pure crap! Her trip to Australia left a carbon footprint bigger than Al gore’s. If you were talk to a varied group of Australians they would have just as many bad things to say of their own country. America has problems , the worst is those who would leave it instead of trying to stay and try to make it good. Please do not breed as I do not want to be hit by a generation of children who have been taught to run from adversity.

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