American Memories

On Sunday morning, I will board a plane bound for Chicago and then on to Cleveland, Ohio. The purpose of the trip is to attend a leadership retreat over the weekend. I'm thankful to get to attend it and even more thankful to have my dude, Tim, show me around his old stomping ground.

This will be my third trip to the United States and I can say unreservedly I love this country. The land is vast and breathtaking, the service is the bizzbomb (a relief when you come from Paris where the waiters have a perennial look of contempt on their faces), toilets are everywhere and the parking spaces are humongous—you could land a jumbo jet at Walmart! I mostly dig it because people are incredibly hospitable there. I'm not sure if it's because I am considered exotic with my Irish brogue, but folks there are so darn friendly. It is a country that gives me mental space to breathe. I feel taken care of. If something were to go wrong, people would roll up their sleeves to lend a hand.

I have great memories and stories from each trip there. Like the time my parents-in-law suggested we go for Sunday lunch at Perkins restaurant. We all hopped in the car. My dad-in-law, Ray (awesome dude!) drove out the driveway, indicated left, and proceeded to drive down the street. Approximately 300 yards later, he indicates right and we pull into a car park. I stay in the car thinking we are picking up a relative or something, only to see the rest of the passengers get out and walk into the restaurant. “What?!” I say, “we're here?!” “Yep,” reply my bewildered family, wondering why the Irishman is acting like a raving mad lunatic. I walked back out to the edge of the road and could see the house from where we'd just embarked. I could have hit it with a stone from where I was standing! “You mean to tell me we drove all the way from there to here?!” For me it was crazy, for them it was just another trip to Perkins. We laugh about that a lot, still. Apparently my folks-in-law now walk occasionally to dine out :)

When I was there in February, I was having breakfast at a friendly, family-run hotel in Minnesota. There were hard-working people in the small dining area, all of them shaking their heads in disbelief as Trump's arrogant voice bellowed from the television. Their incredulity at his popularity was blatantly obvious. I shook my head with them and glances were exchanged that said, “I'm with you.” Great, great people.

I am writing this post for 3 reasons. #1, maybe someone reading it has never been to the USA and this can help paint a picture of what I've experienced. #2, it can tell my many Merican friends just how I feel about their land and #3, it will help me to process some of the deep grief I feel right now. Writing is the greatest form of therapy I've known since I started journaling 25 years ago. Much has been written about racism, police brutality, and guns, etc. Hashtags are trending like they always do. The question of whether we live in more violent times has been bandied about and it's hard to know if the world in general is any better or worse than it was 40-50 years ago. Maybe we just have more media coverage? I don't know and I don't give it that much thought. My main thought is, “this really sucks!” It sucks because it feels like there is no advancement. How can a father in the United Sates look his kid in the eye and say, “Son, because of the color of your skin, you will have to act a certain way when you are around police, just try not to look... suspicious.”? How, in the land of the free, are young black men supposed to survive, let alone thrive, if the system is against them at every turn? I contemplated Alton and Philando all day at work after seeing the videos. I made myself watch them and don't regret it. It bubbled below the surface until I jumped on the train home from work yesterday and sat beside a young black man who had obviously just finished a hard day. He was sweaty with calloused hands and lay into the seat like it was the first rest he'd had all day. I just wept. Grieving sobs on the commute home. I grieved the fact that he is 100 x times more likely to get stopped on suspicion of, anything really, than I ever will be. Yet, in my eyes, he is my equal. I wanted to say sorry to him. I want to take some of the hits for him in the future, or to be there when someone of authority pulls him aside to frisk his pockets and check his ID—I see it all the time here. There is nothing I can say or do that will help the Sterling or Castile families. My words are just a drop in the vast sea of the noisy and opinionated Internet. Today, as you mourn assassinated officers and unjustly murdered men, I grieve with you and for you, America.