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The Beautiful America
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
I bet it must get pretty annoying for Canadians to always hear disgruntled Americans talk about moving there if things continue to get scary in the U.S.A. Almost insulting, like, God knows we don't really want to go there, but hey, things are so bad now we'd even consider living in Ontario at this point. Canadians must collectively think, Gee, thanks a lot. We can't wait. I'm sure they'd like to point out to Americans that Canada is an actual country with its own history and culture and customs, that it's not just a reflective pond for the United States or a last-ditch destination/bedroom community for Yanks who've had enough of their homeland's politics or crime. That there are people who actually choose to live there of their own volition, willingly, and not just because they've exhausted all other options.
Election years bring out a lot of this kind of talk and this year it's even worse, with the two major candidates for President perceived as being, as Edward Snowden so viciously pointed out in a recent tweet, either a "calculating villain" or an "unthinking monster." On both ends of the political spectra there are a lot of people who believe that there will be a worst-case scenario after the election results are in that will force them to flee their country for safer climes. To a place that's more sedate and not nearly as scary, eh?
Whenever I hear someone vow to move to Canada — and I heard it when Reagan got elected, when Clinton got elected, when GWB got elected, when Obama got elected — I always roll my eyes and think, Oh, they're one of THOSE. I'm not even sure I can articulate what I mean by that, by that "THOSE," but I do know, intuitively, that one of "THOSE" is not one of "ME'S." God knows I'm nobody's patriot and I distrust anyone who calls themselves one, but I'm very aware that I'll always identify as an American, even if I'd be hard-pressed to describe what that exactly means.
Or so I thought. After Orlando — and God how I hate that, that now the word "Orlando" is in our lexicon like "Sandy Hook" or "9/11," it's not even a city anymore — my wife sighed and said that if we didn't have so much family here, she'd consider packing me and the girls up and moving to another country. Europe, perhaps, somewhere in France or England. Or, yeah, Canada. Both of our jobs are internet-based anyway, we could conceivably do our work from any spot on the globe. It wasn't just the horror of the attacks themselves that bothered her (and me) so much, it was what we both discovered, later, on our respective Facebook feeds — somehow, the atrocities committed in Orlando reinforced the positions of both gun rights advocates and gun control proponents. How this could be possible I still have no idea but it's clear that the divide is so wide and the entrenchment so deep that there's little hope of anything changing anytime soon.
So what did I think about the option, then, of leaving my country? I had to admit that the idea had some appeal to me, now. Would I consider actually implementing the notion into action? I'm pretty resistant to change as a rule, but for the first time I actually started to ponder the feasibility of renouncing my national identity.
I entertained the notion for a few days before reaching a determination. I remembered a passage from Lost Empires, by J.B. Priestly that seemed to sum up what I was feeling. In the novel, the English main character has the chance to leave his country for America just as World War 1 is beginning. The character explains his decision: "I don't want to be a soldier. I wish there wasn't a war. And I don't feel particularly patriotic. All this King and Country stuff and flag-waving doesn't make me want to cheer. I know, though, that if I went to America, I'd be miserable. I'd never be able to take my mind off it. I'd feel I'd run away from a challenge. But I'm a young man — and I live here — and I feel I ought to take my chance, as so many others are doing."
And that, in a nutshell, is why I can never leave. I live here, I'm an American, and I'd hate to run out when there's still some very small chance that perhaps I can do something good here. For the country that I love, warts and all.
I guess another way to look at it is to think of America as a person that you have a really messed-up relationship with. Like some cousin, say, or an old reprobate uncle, somebody who's constantly screwing up and constantly exasperating you. You still love him, even though he broke into your garage and stole your toolbox and sold it on E-bay for drug money. Even though he's made a lifetime habit of letting you down and making you insane, you still remember the time he drove all night in a snowstorm to give your daughter a stuffed animal on her birthday. You remember the times when everybody else had abandoned you, but somehow, against all odds, he was there. Drunk, limping from a bar fight, maybe, but willing to go to battle for you. He makes you want to pull your hair out, and you've wanted to wash your hands of him a dozen times, but you know you can't say goodbye to him. That's our country. Have a helluva Fourth.