Quiet in America
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
My friend Andi asked me for a pro/con list of all the places we’ve visited thus far in our search for home. As I sat down to draft a blog on this topic, I found myself frozen.
Right now, it’s hard to write a pro/con list of specific places when America as a whole is increasingly frightening, frustrating, and spiraling faster by the day.
So, the car is quiet these days, not exactly fodder for pro/con list-making. We are quietly contemplating what we are finding or not finding in America. Contemplating the positive aspects yes, but also some serious cons that are troubling us.
When we first conceptualized this trip, we imagined ourselves as explorers seeking all the great things about this country and its people. Irked by our President’s declaration that he would “Make America Great Again,” we envisioned ourselves finding all the examples small and large of how America already is great. We usually imagined our epic road trip with at least one scene of us driving down a highway and triumphantly flipping the bird in the general direction of our old Commander-in-Chief.
Once we refined and tweaked our goals for the trip, we decided it was less about proving that America is a place with greatness and more about discovering something and finding something – home that felt like home – for ourselves. For one thing, we believed America was great already and didn't have anything to prove to ourselves or others. Hence, "Growing Home" instead of "Finding Greatness" (an early name for our project).
And here we are, in a critical time in our nation’s history, and it's not feeling so great - maybe it does have something to prove, in fact. It's a disappointing time for some, a life-threatening time for countless, a shocking time for others, an affirmation of what was already known by many. And sadly, it is also necessary to point out that it’s a very happy time for some of our citizens. As a white American I am joining many marginalized communities of people who have known this side of America for a lot longer than I've been aware of it. Shame on me, shame on us.
When Joel and I break the quiet and do turn to each other to chat, it’s often about what to do: what to do about America, what to do to make it a great nation for all people.
The more we drive across America, the more we feel how much the current America is not working for any of us. America needs a serious overhaul.
Things that should be basic human rights – including housing, access to food and clean water, healthcare, and freedom from violence – are not things that every citizen in this country has.
We have driven in extremely impoverished parts of this country and seen tragic things in every state we have driven through, around every corner, often right next to the most affluent parts of a city. So many homeless people, hungry people, trafficked people, overworked people. Why does our country seem so uncaring right now? So lacking in basic humanity?
And speaking of overworked people: we’ve also stayed with hosts and met people across the country who are living middle class existences and still struggling to get by. The number of "side hustles" and second jobs people are taking on just to make ends meet blows our mind.
Something we have had mounting anxiety about is how we will return to a grueling 9-to-5 workplace existence. This journey across this fragmented country makes us seriously question what we are working for.
I spent years in the nonprofit sector fundraising for causes that, at my core, I felt were things our society should guarantee to each citizen – things such as jobs, basic protections in the legal system from violent offenders, education, and access to adequate, low-cost (or free) healthcare.
I struggle to comprehend why causes such as these should be the responsibility of a nonprofit sector rather than the government of a country. This is not a country that believes in basic human rights.
I see exhausted and overworked people struggling to make ends meet, for what end? I am challenged when I try to imagine myself rejoining the workforce in this country. Why hustle so hard if the system we live in is not serving all it’s citizens?
So, here’s the real pro/con list I am making: what is the pro/con of building a home here in America? What is the pro/con of embarking on a new career path here in America?
I am not checked out. I am not willing to be complacent. I believe systems-change is possible. And yet, I also understand the fight or flight response so many of us are experiencing currently. I am left with the question: dig in or dig out?
Here we are 2 months, six-thousand miles, and nearly 20 states into our road trip, and while we don’t regret the journey we started, it is starting to look like the ending is much murkier than we knew at the onset. We confidently decided to leave behind the known in search of what’s next. What’s next requires a pro/con list that we are only just beginning to understand.
Here's a good listen (thanks Julia E. for the recommendation) that helped stir up a lot of this rumination. It's called "What's Wrong with Work?" from the To the Best of Our Knowledge podcast.