Trials & Triumphs: 240 American Years

It’s been a busy few weeks in my world (hence the lack of posts). In celebration of our 6-year anniversary, my husband and I hopped over to Siem Reap, Cambodia (photos coming soon to a blog post near you). Then I acted as the lead logistics person and the registration table coordinator for the Consulate’s 4th of July Independence Day Celebration; our premier representational event of the year, this occasion saw us hosting roughly 600 guests and me working a 12 hour day, in addition to the hours of pre-planning work I’d done in the weeks prior. And then, of course, there was the literary criticism chapter I was supposed to write, the one whose July 1st deadline fell on the same date as the Independence Day celebration. (Pro tip, learned via the school of hard knocks: if you see a writing deadline aligning with a massive deadline in your “real” life, ask for an extension from your editor up-front. Don’t pull a me, deluding yourself that you can meet said deadline–this method is likely to result in your turning in the manuscript 2 days late, at 2 AM. Just as a random example.)

Fortunately, I had July 4th itself off and 24-hours of recovery time. Then it was off to the races again as I began working on preparations for pack-out for our transnational move from China to South America. (All the Foreign Service veterans out there just cringed at the word “pack-out;” you know all too well the warren of guess-work and stress involvedDwight Meme.) Add this to the watercolor painting I have to finish before my supplies are packed up in a week, and I’m a lady with a long to-do list and a rapidly shrinking period of time in which to polish it off. Still, I’m pretty sure this won’t kill me, so I guess I know my only alternative.

But even though this blog post is now a week belated, I didn’t want to miss the chance to write something July 4th-esque because the truth is, I love my country. Before moving overseas, I would have called myself a casual patriot: happy to be American, but not overly conscious of it. But living abroad has given me a sharper appreciation for the land I call my own, for all the blessings America possesses and affords. While watching the trailer for the National Park Adventure Imax film–played as part of our programing for our Independence Day Celebration–I found myself tearing up. Separated from it by thousands of miles, I was newly in awe of my home, my country. America, the beautiful, I thought. It is beautiful. So beautiful. (See a similar trailer below.)

Certainly, the United States is not the only country with much to be proud of. Nor is it problem free. A glimpse of the news, particularly in recent weeks, will confirm that much. But there exists in the United States beauty beyond that found in our glaciers and mountains, our hot springs and coastlines. There is a magnificent resilience in the American spirit and it is this that encourages me to believe that though resolution to our current issues may not come easily, there is hope of its coming. A backward glance at our history reveals a country far from contention-free. But such conflicts are the price and the reward of freedom of speech, of dissent, of diverse thought; such clashes could not occur in the same way were we not possessed of freedom to disagree with the powers that be, with one another’s perspectives. And we’ve overcome these periods of conflict, progressing and growing because of it–even if certain issues like race are currently showing themselves in need of further mediation.

Compared with countries like China or England, America’s 240 years of existence make the country a relatively young one. But in that time span we’ve triumphed and advanced much, gaining independence, surviving a rift so deep it cut across our nation in a civil war, enduring Prohibition, the Great Depression, two world wars. We’ve seen victory and enfranchisement via women’s suffrage and civil rights movements for African Americans, Chicano/as, American Indians…. It can be easy, I think, to look back at such historical moments with a sanitized perspective, with the passivity that comes from reading about such events in history books, rather than experiencing them. But surely those moments were ones of terrific conflict and chaos for those who lived them; I imagine some witnesses even feared they would shortly bear witness to America’s downfall. And yet our nation survived, living on to see our 240th birthday.

Certainly, I don’t mean to simplify, sugarcoat, or downplay today’s issues. They are real and serious, heartbreaking and, quite frankly, scary. I’m also aware that my current expatriate status means that I don’t feel the full weight of these issues. But I take encouragement from our history, and I want to celebrate that hope, as well as all we do right. Our country is remarkably diverse; and diversity, by its very nature, is bound to occasionally cause conflict as the heterogenous is by nature more likely to be at odds within itself than the homogenous. Americans are also afforded a sacred ability to voice discontent and, through non-violent methods, to advocate for change. This is a gift absent from many corners of the world–one that is precious. This, I believe, will continue to carry us forward toward peace and growth, just as it has for the past 240 years.

*All views expressed within this post, or elsewhere in this blog, are my own. These views do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Foreign Service, or any other branch of the U.S. government.

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