Two years ago, I was living and teaching in Juneau with an infant and my husband. Now, I'm living and teaching in Thailand with a toddler and my husband. The morning of 9/11, before work, I was changing my daughter's diaper when I heard the news report. I looked squarely into her eye and said out loud "I'm sorry I couldn't have brought you into a better world." She locked into my eyes as if to tell me she had a wisdom beyond the temporal one, and she knew something I didn't. She comforted me that morning.
In the ensuing months, however, I became less at ease with my country's reaction to such an event. Red, white and blue wallpaper covered up thoughtful, reflective conversation; our ignorance of world geography and history showed up like our bigoted uncle at a family reunion; zeal filled our "God Bless America" emblazoned shopping bags as we stuffed needless plastic items into them, equating capitalism with patriotism. "DON'T MESS WITH THE US" bumper stickers reminded us how macho we were on our commute from work, as we noticed our hands gripping the steering wheel a bit tighter than usual with fear and anxiety.
Increasingly, I became more and more disturbed at the lack of awareness and hatred filling the newspapers and the hearts of many of my fellow citizens. I felt very alienated from my neighbors, my colleagues, and my family who all sported flags to show how united we stand. Why didn't I feel united? In terms of demographics, I'm a classically civic-minded citizen. I'm white, middle class, from the Midwest, served my country in the Peace Corps, volunteered at the homeless shelter, worked in gang-ridden schools in Detroit, taught U.S. history, and worked in public institutions serving others my entire young professional life. Of course, I didn't hate America. I just didn't buy the premise that waving flags and going shopping was the extent of the work we citizens had to do.
As the flags flapped, and the mouths of the pundits flapped faster, the reality we experienced was increased division among the citizenry, perpetuated stereotypes, loss of civil liberties, and daily fear in our lives of just about anything that moved. We can see that with clarity now. A few wise souls told us about it right after 9/11 but most of us didn't listen.
In the midst of that chaos, I found myself getting back in touch with my dream of teaching overseas. I interviewed with a principal of an international school in Thailand. There it was. My chance to be an American out in the world, not hiding behind my closed window shades at home. An opportunity to take a break from the propaganda.
In these two years, I met people from all over the world and listened to their thoughts. I read newspapers with much different information in it than we had been getting in the United States, and I realized how good it felt to not be giving taxes to an administration gone wrong.
So, is it unpatriotic? Should I move back to the United States? Since we're "at war with terror," is my civic duty to be like Rosie the Riveter and come home and do whatever for the cause? Looking around, I don't see that World War II sense of patriotism and sacrifice at first glance. I see people with American flag decals on their Hummers. I see the president in his flight suit for a photo op for Fox News. I look harder, though, and see some people choosing hybrid vehicles or using alternative energy sources. I see people advocating to maintain veterans' benefits in the wake of the Bush administration cuts. I see ordinary people meeting and talking about how to move the country forward.
I'm heartened that America is waking up a bit from its Dark Ages of a couple years ago. I'll write letters to the editor, I'll vote in every election, but I won't come home until "that man" is out of the Oval Office. As an American, I am blessed to have the freedom to decide that for myself. And my daughter.
Mary Noble of Juneau holds a B.A. in political science and a master's degree from the University of Michigan.