“May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.”
-inscribed on the Golden Spike, Promontory Point, 1869
Today is the day. The day I leave you to set off on an adventure around the world, to see what else is out there. And although I’ve left you before, it’s never been quite like this. This trip is the longest, has the most destinations, and is marked with the most uncertainty since I’m not exactly where what or where I’ll be coming back to at the end of it.
True, we’ve had some hard times recently. I’ve seen a divisiveness at home that makes my heart ache and brings tears to my eyes on a regular basis. I’ve seen people do some unconscionable things and been hit with the staunch reality of how far we still have to go. And hopefully when I come back, you’ll have come a little farther, and we can continue to press on together. Maybe I can even help.
But this letter is not about the challenges that have recently come to pass. On a recent trip to the Bahamas, someone asked me what I’d miss the most while I was gone. I wasn’t able to answer immediately–before leaving I was so filled with excitement for my new adventure and so overcome with all the work I had to do in preparation that I hadn’t really stopped to think about it.
Of course, I will miss my family and friends. That’s the obvious part. I have so many amazing people in my life who are supporting me on this great adventure. But my parents (as well as some friends) are coming to visit me at some point, and the reality is I have friends spread across the US (and the world) who I don’t see on a regular basis anyway. Plus, thanks to the internet, no one is ever too far away. So I wanted to look beyond that at you, my home, and think about the other things.
So without further ado, here are the things about you that I will miss. Some are shallow or mundane, others less so, but I think I’ve taken them all for granted.
- Ernie: I can’t say much more without crying. I miss him already.
- Being able to get pretty much anything, anytime: Hungry? Have food delivered. Something that can’t be delivered? Hop in the car and you can probably get it. Not nearby? Go on Amazon and get it the next day. We are so spoiled. And on that note…
- Hopping in the car and running a quick errand: I know, in Chicago it’s less quick, but still… It’s not going to be so easy to get around where I have no car and don’t speak the language. And no Target to go get whatever I need…
- Blue Steel (my car): There is simply nothing like riding through the country with the top down on a summer day.
- Live Theater: One of my favorite releases, and it’s hard to believe I’m going to miss so many amazing shows.
- Blow Dryers (and a climate that makes them useful): This is so superficial, but it’s true. Even the most adventurous among us, and those of us who give the fewest f—s sometimes feel like doing our hair and looking pretty. My hair is going to be a massive ball of frizz for the next year. And I’ve learned in the tropics that even if you blow dry your hair, it’s more or less a futile exercise.
- Good Old Midwestern Food: OK, back to some more mundane things. I know that I will eat and eat well all over the world. But I’ll be missing that late August midwestern sweet corn, frozen custard, Wisconsin cheese, grass-fed steak, and a plethora of other things that just don’t seem to be the same anywhere else.
- Variety of food: It’s not just the specific food you offer that I’ll miss, but also the fact that I can get just about anything my heart desires. It’s pretty awesome.
- The Seasons: Ask me if I still feel this way when I step off the plane in December.
- Reliable Air Conditioning: This is one I’ll get used to, but I’ll still be on a hunt for a room with a breeze.
- Ready Access to Internet: Another double-edged coin, I am going to be in some places where it will be tough to get in touch. This will make some logistics annoying as well as be tough in the times I’m homesick. But again, a little liberating too…
- My Clothes: Another superficial one, but it’s going to be an adjustment to have basically 4 things to choose from every morning. (At the same time, maybe this will be a little liberating.)
- Being Able to Wear Whatever I Damned Well Please: Related, and it seems superficial, but it’s about more than that. Women have a long way to go in America, but at least if I want to walk around in a bikini, I have the right to do that. No one is going to tell me I’d better cover my shoulders or wear pants or a knee-length skirt. I respect the customs of other countries and locations and will cover my shoulders and legs where required, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be happy about it. (Plus, it’s going to be HOT.) And yes, I realize there remain problems at home relating to body shaming, slut shaming, fat shaming, etc., but the bottom line is no one’s getting arrested for having bare shoulders or knees–we’re better off than some areas of the world.
- Unlimited access to fresh, clean, hot water: Some of the places I’ll have fresh and hot water. Others it may not be hot. Some places even the water from the taps may be brackish. But regardless, it is a precious commodity. Home, you give me the ability to take a wholly unnecessary soak in a giant tub of water, and all of us who live there are so fortunate for that. We take it for granted. (As an aside, there is a great book, Tropical Fish in which a young woman from Uganda describes her first bath. I highly recommend it as it will give you a perspective on how ridiculous and amazing a bath seems in some areas of the world.)
- Cleanliness, Generally: Although far from perfect and there’s a lot of work to do, the air, water, and land at home remain cleaner than many other areas of the world. Please, I implore you, keep it that way, and make it even better.
- Purple mountains majesty, and the rest of it from sea to shining sea: Living there, I often fail to recognize how beautiful the American landscape is. We have so many national treasures. I leave without having explored anywhere close to all of them, but that leaves me a lot to do on return. Please treasure them and keep them safe for my return.
- Diversity: I’ve met so many people from all walks of life without ever having to leave my country. I’ve learned from all of them. Not just diversity of background, but diversity of thoughts and ideas. It’s what drives us all crazy sometimes, but it’s also one thing that makes you great. I’m sad to see not everyone appreciates that diversity. I hope when I’m gone, some of the wounds can be mended, and people realize how your diversity is one of your greatest assets.
- Your Inspirational History: As I prepared to leave, I flipped through my freshly-renewed passport and the quotations that adorned the pages. (I’d encourage everyone to do that. That was the source for the quote that started this blog.) I continue to marvel at what the founding fathers did, and I hope you continue to work to live up to the promise of the great American experiment.
This list isn’t comprehensive, and I’m sure there will be other things I miss as I’m away for longer. But even though there are some things I won’t miss, and you’ve sometimes broken my heart and made me cry, you are my home. And when it’s time to find home, I know the way.
We set a course to find
A brand new island everywhere we roam
We keep our island in our mind
And when it’s time to find home
We know the way
-“We Know the Way” from Moana, lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda