Dear United States of America,
In all the time that I’ve lived in this country, I’ve received a lot of praise about England, the country of my birth. From random strangers in grocery stores and gas stations telling me how much they love my accent, to customers in our little pottery shop remarking on how much they enjoy visiting England, you have lavished compliments on me that I believe (hope), have made me a better person. And yet your delivery has often been tinged with shyness, self-effacement almost, like you’re my little sister, telling me that I’m lovely without believing that she is lovely too. So I thought, with Valentine’s Day approaching, I would take a moment to repay those compliments, by telling you some of the things that I love about you.
First of all, you’re very refreshing. Coming from a country where classism was the norm, it’s been inspiring to live in a place where people don’t tell you certain things aren’t available to you because you weren’t born to them. Yes, I’m sure it’s easier for those who are born into privilege but that’s never stopped the USA from letting others climb up to that privilege if they have the moxy. And when they do climb up, no one seems inclined to crush them by saying they don’t really deserve it. If you don’t believe this to be true about yourself, then take this little anecdote from my life. After years of living here and growing accustomed to the fact that I was not judged for my background, I made the mistake of telling a young Englishwoman, with a posh accent (suggesting she was born to money), that I had grown up in a home without central heating. She turned to me, with such a look of disdain on her face, as if to say, “Oh, you come from that kind of background,” that I was shocked. It had been so long since anyone had looked at me like that. And for something I had no control over. But it made me that much more aware of what an incredible gift it has been to live in a place where I can I can reach up without feeling myself pulled down. As Desi Arnaz said, at a dinner honoring his achievements, “Only in America.” That’s a sentiment I completely get.
The second thing I love about you is your constant questing to find yourself. To be honest, this wasn’t something I understood at all when I first arrived here. Why were people always “looking for themselves?” Didn’t they know who they were? But then I had hundreds of years behind me, as an Englishwoman, telling me who I was, so I didn’t have any doubts. It wasn’t until I’d lived here for a while, and started writing in earnest, that I began to question some of those things I’d accepted about myself. I wondered if they really fit me? Is that who I was? Or was I just settling for a preconceived notion of myself? Before I knew it your questing had slipped under my skin, and I found myself on a journey of self-discovery that I may not have thought I needed, but which you supported. The person I found through this journey, I liked a lot more than the person I’d been willing to accept as a youth. And when I liked her, the family I’d created here in the US seemed to flourish more. Which made me think that if it’s good for the individual, and enough people do it, maybe it’s good for the community, the nation, maybe even the world. And so I grew to love, and respect, this particular aspect of life in the United States. As my husband is fond of saying, The United States of America is an idea, not a place. And ideas are worth revisiting as many times as necessary to get them to turn into something worthwhile.
And finally, for this letter anyway, the third thing I’ve grown very attached to in living here is just how willing you are to speak and practice love. It was hard for me, with my innate dose of British reserve, to even use that word, let alone share that feeling with anyone outside the immediate family. Talk about walls; I had a particularly striking one around my emotions when I arrived in this country. But so many people reached out to me in genuine affection that the wall developed a crack. And pretty soon that crack became a hole and the hole turned into, well, rubble really, as you disassembled all my defenses with your free-spirited ability to give and share love. I know some people think you’re the brash kid that wants it all, but I believe you’re also the kind mama, who whispers in our ears things like, “Don’t give up,” “Believe in yourself,” and “You can do it.”
Of course not everyone will agree with the things I’m writing about you but that’s okay because this is my love letter to you. One that I wanted to write in an attempt to build your self-confidence the way I think you’ve built mine. Especially since you’re going through such a tough time right now. A time of conflicting emotions, bruised egos, broken friendships….well, you know. But if there is one thing I’ve learned resoundingly since arriving on your shores, it’s that struggle is a big part of success. So don’t give up, do believe in yourself and remember you are loved.
Happy Valentine’s Day!