There are many ways in which I am a typical American, and there are ways in which I am a hyper-American: My love of personal freedom is an example. Now, everyone loves their freedom in the abstract, or in concrete ways like freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom to own assault rifles…
But besides the freedom of speech, what I love most is freedom of movement, and I have built an entire lifestyle around that over the last five years. And this year…not so much. I’m not unique in this frustration, this limited movement, but I am somewhat unique in my ability to do so in normal times. And in these abnormal times, this is what chafes the most.
When the EU announced that it was barring Americans from coming to Europe – whereas my Japanese friends can go there, my Canadian friends can go there, my Aussie friends can go there – it was a blow. I have, in fact, tried to write about this several times over the last week, but every time, my writing got too frustrated, too angry to write about it in the tone I’d like to maintain.
This is the rub with freedom: My freedom can come into conflict with your freedom. My freedom to travel is now severely limited because many of my fellow Americans’ feeling that having to cover their faces with a piece of cloth limited their freedom – “to breathe” said one acquaintance when I asked which of his freedoms was being abridged. To which I say, “snowflake.” And perhaps find a better mask?
But I try to avoid getting into arguments with true believers with whom I can’t even agree on basic notions of reality. There’s just no point. But now, the resistance of tens of millions of Americans to science is impacting one of my most treasured freedoms: My freedom of movement. I am literally stuck in America, not because my government won’t let me leave, but because none of the places I want to go – Vietnam, Italia, Espana, Turkey, and above all, Japan – would let me in.
Now, I know that this is nothing personal, and that Americans are by no means the only nationality that are being barred by such countries. Vietnam, for instance, isn’t letting anyone in. Ditto Japan, whose in-migration has fallen 99.9% year-over-year. But what’s sad to me about this is that Americans used to be the exception, right? Past American governments would have handled this, or at the very least, this country wouldn’t have the what is literally the worst pandemic on the globe; we wouldn’t be in the same category as Russia, Chile and Brazil.
To be fair, the citizens of Sweden probably didn’t think they’d be near the top of that list, either; neither did the citizens of the UK. So it’s not merely because of incompetent national governance. But that hasn’t helped.
It’s weird to see the list of countries that are welcome in Japan: Most of the nationals being allowed into my home-away-from-home are from…Africa? This is a change. Burmese and Cambodians and Mongolians can go to Japan, as well as Venezuelans, which is just perverse (but if ever there were a country one would be desperate to leave…)
While Americans can’t visit the EU, neither can people from any country in Latin America (except Uruguay) or Africa (except Algeria and Morocco) or the Middle East. The list of countries allowed into the EU is small, but it includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.
What burns is that we, the citizens of the United States, used to be on that list. But not any more.
It matters why, but I’m not going to get into that…with any luck, America will return to her normal course in January, and we will rejoin the group of advanced nations – or at least countries with decent health care systems and a minimally-responsible federal governments.
But my frustrations are meaningless to anyone but me, and I’ll survive. The biggest challenge is, as always, mastering how I frame this. I am fortunate enough to have landed in a good place, in cool southern Washington, in a room with a view, with great people, and plenty of work to keep me busy.
I went through a week of “I’m trapped!!!” self-talk, and text and video conversations with friends and loved ones in Berlin, Barcelona, Bologna, Saigon and Kyoto – all places where life has returned to normal, or normal-ish – hearing about in-person meetings, and lunches out and live entertainment and even hook-ups – didn’t help that feeling.
But I’m giving myself a couple of months more of being hunkered down, addressing longterm goals, completing some more long-deferred creative work, and enjoying a cool summer for a change. I’m not telling myself I’m trapped, or I’d like to get out of this crazy country, or anything else that’s enervating and dispiriting. Life is good, life is what you make it, and I don’t regret the path I’ve chosen.
I wrote before about the jellyfish as spirit animal, and I want to add a fourth response to the unholy “fight, flight or freeze” trinity: FLOW. Resisting reality isn’t helpful, I’m not trapped…and neither are you. We are always free to respond appropriately to any given circumstance, and while I may have to talk myself into it from time to time, it really does work.
So, I’m getting back on track, I’m settled in for a couple of months, and life is good. I remain grateful, far more than angry, and I’m going to continue to focus on what I can control, what I can accomplish, and not let circumstance control how I feel. At the end of the day, my circumstances remain stellar, and exactly what I want.