Content warning: the views expressed in this blog post are expressly those of an author seething with frustration about her home country while wearing rose colored-glasses about her future home.
In just about 70 days, I will hop on a plane with my wife to begin the next chapter of our lives together. It has all the promise of a grand adventure, but it doesn’t come without a portion of sadness, a pinch of anxiety and just a dash of WTH are we doing?!
I am paying closer attention to life around me and I’ve been thinking deeply about what I will and won’t miss. Truth be told, there are only a handful of things I will miss, most of them not things at all. But we will get to that in a moment.
Right before I began writing this post, I quickly consulted the oracle of Googly goodness to see what other folks have said they miss about America when they are abroad. I bet it will come as little surprise, but what I mostly found were a bunch of whiny, privileged, consumer-driven lists about fast food, phone service and freon. While I’m a woman of a certain age and I will miss my A/C on the occasional warm day in the Netherlands, I can say with a high degree of certainty that I will not miss anything on those other lists. But for now, here is the list of what I think I will and won’t miss. Actually, lets start with what I won’t miss.
What I won’t miss
More than a few acquaintances have expressed gape-mouthed astonishment that we are giving away or selling most of our things. And for a couple of broads with nearly a century (combined) under our belts, that’s a lot of stuff to let go of. And you know what, I really won’t miss that sofa, or those plates or that rug, the pants I never wear or the shirts I’d forgotted I even had. Very few of the things I own are of intrinsic or emotional value. Most that are, will make the voyage. Some we will have to let go, like our camper that has brought us so much joy in such a short time. But these are just things and by my way of thinking, life is too short to be possessed by our possessions.
I will not miss the oil changes I always forget to do ’til she’s wheezing and sputtering. I won’t miss flat tires. I will not miss driving in rush hour traffic (or season traffic in Florida). I will not miss paying for insurance or gas. I will not miss my heavy carbon footprint.
Fast food, not even the fried chicken.
I am looking forward to walking to the farmers market twice a week to explore fresh, weird & wonderful food. Betsy is a fantastic cook and we are both over the moon to traipse around our new city and country learning how the locals eat.
I will not miss “debates” with “conservative Christians.” I will not miss the posturing and politics of “Christian leaders” who grow rich peddling fear and loathing. I won’t miss the Christian industrial complex that takes more cues from capitalism than Christ. And I’m really, really over politics masquerading as Christianity used to manipulate the masses.
Everything about America, from day one, has been about the bottom line. The truth is, America was founded, not on the quest for freedom of thought and religion (like our quaint little school books would have us believe), but on a quest for wealth, a lust for power and a desire for dominance. Sure, we penned some right nice ideas in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution puts forth some grand democratic ideals, but in reality, if you are not a rich, white, heterosexual, land owning male, it was never really about you. Now more than ever, I can see that we are and always have been a government of the dollar by the dollar and for the dollar.
The glorification of busy.
It seems that the notion of sabbath taking, true and deep rest from our work, is shameful in America. We are on an ever moving treadmill of doing rather than being. I am ready for a a significant change of perspective and priorities.
Homophobia everywhere, every day.
Just the other night I sat with my wife at a pub in Florida, sipping a good beer, laughing with a few good friends, and right across the bar sat two disgruntled people who glared at us and pursed their surly lips as we dared to flaunt ourselves in their faces by just happily being ourselves, holding hands. To be quite blunt, this ever-pervasive experience tops the list of why we’ve decided to make the jump. I have mixed emotions about leaving y’all to fight the good fight, but I’m ready to just live openly and without the daily dose of ignorance and loathing, please and thank you.
Really, just stop. You know what it means, we know what it means. You embarrass me as a southerner, you embarrass me as an American. Read a book, listen to people, grow up and stop it.
What I will miss
The number one thing I will miss is not even a thing. I will miss my daughter more than I have words to convey. It is a tender ache already laced in and around my every fiber. Sure, she is thriving in her own life, deeply immersed in college, but I miss her every day and night just being a few hundred miles south of her right here on American soil. Though I’ll be just a six-hour flight away, it’s hard to untangle my heart from the notion that I will be living an ocean away from my Z. She will visit, almost as soon as we get there, and frequently I know (because Amsterdam), but this I’m sure will prove to be something about which I will need a great deal of reflection and meditation. And maybe a session or two of full-on Steel Magnolias ugly crying.
I will miss the smattering of loving family that still are crazy enough to claim me. And I will miss the handful of friends that it’s taken me a lifetime to find. I’ll be leaving behind friends in Georgia and Florida who feel more like family than most of my own kinfolk. Friends who, by all accounts, love me and root for me even when I forget how to be the good friend they deserve. Yeah, I will really, really miss my people.
The second thing I will miss is not a thing either…
I will miss Georgia. I will miss her troubled yet delightful cities. I will miss Atlanta and Decatur, both the familiar and the frustrating. I will miss her mountains to the north and her coastline dripping with magnolias and moss. I will miss the bloom of wisteria in the early spring and the first flicker of lightening bugs dancing between dogwoods of summer.
I will miss Florida. I have to be honest and say I did not believe that would ever be true. I will miss our little home and big yard and the many sacred spaces we have carved out together. I will miss the lushness everywhere I look. I won’t miss the miles and miles of strip malls, but I sure will miss the miles and miles of beaches, rivers to kayak and dark night skies framed by palm trees.
Oh and parks! Our nation’s beautiful national parks! Geeze o Pete, I hope the asshats in charge don’t destroy them while I’m gone because I really love my parks. Our parks, wildly diverse in their landscape and lore, are thin places if one but gives themselves permission to wander and wonder. Please enjoy and take good care of them while we’re away, m’kay.
Wild Goose is an event, both a place and a whole lot of people, that have helped me live into another way. It seems to be an example of best of this country could be if it really wanted – hopeful and diverse, open and warm, generative and rejuvenating.
At Wild Goose we:
showed up in our camper with very few things,
spent a lot of time walking,
shared our food, drink, umbrellas and really, all our stuff,
listened deeply to a lot of different faith journeys,
took a whole lot of sabbath,
welcomed everyone to be themselves just as they have been created
and draped anything & anybody that would stand still with peace and rainbow flags.
For just a minute up there in Hot Springs, we were reminded that a better way really is possible. Maybe even here. I sure hope here. But for now, we are getting ready for our own journey in search of that better way, on a little street, in an old neighborhood of a cool city in Holland called Leiden.
The travel books are piling up. Early on, while Betsy was still interviewing, I bought a picture-filled, tourist facing book of The Netherlands. I was afraid to read it in depth before we knew if our dream was a merely a puff of smoke or a beautiful flower blooming at our feet. So, I carried the book around, a rather cumbersome four leaf clover, taking it out to touch the cover, glance at the super saturated photos of tulips and windmills and peek between the covers at a life that might be ours, but not yet.
Then, as the interviews continued, the call finally came offering Betsy the opportunity to do what she loves – teach literature – in Holland! So the book took the top spot on my night stand, the cover covered in images of our future.
Not too long after Betsy said yes to our new address, and I said yes to the dress, we walked down a sandy aisle and promised before God, Buddha, family and friends to love and hold one another – in sunshine or rain. And for what we are learning, there’s gonna be a lot of rain! But I am getting ahead of myself.
A colleague and friend gave us as a wedding gift the first book to begin truly opening my eyes to the world that we will soon call home. Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates is a pleasant, entertaining read that’s also jam packed with facts about the history and current culture of Holland. On more than one occasion Betsy and I have been heard reciting newly learned fact after another (such as: “Hey, do you know what the windmills are for? Like, what was their original purpose? No? We do! See, much of The Netherlands is below sea level and the windmills – get this – pumped the water away and made it possible for the Dutch to CREATE Holland!). Many a party guest were both thrilled, and soon tired of, our little game of Did You Know? But, fear not, we’ve also heard our fair share of “just what the Netherlands needs, a couple more dykes!”
Then more books arrived as more or less assigned reading for folks preparing to expatriate to The Netherlands. Books such as Holland Handbook and At Home in Holland, are full of history and helpful hints on current cultural norms (such as – it’s highly recommended to be prepared to offer a guest coffee the moment they step across your threshold). The books also take a generous a look at Dutch society at large.
And the more we read, the more excited we get. And a little sad to realize America is just not what we have long thought she was.
See, it seems that everything we have long fooled ourselves into thinking that America is, the Dutch are doing a WAY better job of actually realizing. I know we are in the beginning stages of our new nation crush and we both fully realize that the social and political landscape is far more complex than can be captured in a handful of tourist and expat books. We are painfully aware of our own broken hearts over the current state of cray-cray in our homeland. And yes, we know that NO place is perfect, not this side of paradise, but damn, y’all. The Dutch do seem to be a whole lot closer to getting it right.
To be fair, the Dutch have gotten some things VERY wrong – from brutal colonialism to their despicable role in the transatlantic slave trade. And the recent, disturbing rise of Geert Wilders is something to watch closely. But overall what they have become seems to be what America has long pretended to be. A nation for the people.
From all that we are reading (yeeeesss, we know this is just what the books are telling/selling us), the wind that powers the windmills, is permeated with living, breathing sense self determination, a genuine concern for the well being of their neighbors and a clear commitment to consensus all with an underpinning of equality that may indeed be too good to be true. The result appears to be a pattern of life, politically and privately, that privileges the good of the community over the prosperity of the person. And guess what? They actually eschew legislating mortality. What the what? You mean if you don’t create a perplexing and contradictory codex of morality laws, civilization will not crumble?
So, Betsy and I are rapidly preparing to trade in our cars for bicycles, leave the sunshine state for a country soaked by over 200 days a year of rain in search of another, possibly better way of life, where teachers are highly valued professionals, the common good outweighs personal profit and gay marriage is just plain old marriage.
Coming up next: 10 things I will miss about America.
This post appeared originally on Kimberly’s previous blog over at Patheos.
Some of y’all may know that in July I will be moving with my new wife to the Netherlands. The inspiration for this leap across the pond bloomed one traumatic night in November when the changing of the guard ushered in the new regime of madness under which we now find ourselves.
See, Betsy has lived and worked abroad before, nearly a decade in Singapore and Budapest, and we had been planning to eventually move to Europe together, so on that devastating night, she began reaching out to former colleagues to see if there were any faculty openings for which she’d be qualified to apply. Apparently, the answer was yes. So, after nearly four months of interviews at a school in The Hague (her last interview happened to be on Inauguration Day) and nearly just as many sleep deprived nights waiting for an answer, the universe handed us a big fat YES! We are beyond excited to be making this leap together!
Although our own country has made immense progress (thanks to the tireless work of activists of all stripes and a previous administration that led with hope rather than fear) the US seems to be in serious retrograde where haters are celebrating their ignorance in unprecedented style! So, in less than 90 days we will be living and working in a culture not dominated by sexually stunted, willfully ignorant, fear-mongering religion.
I can hardly wrap my head around what it’s going to be like to no longer have to convince the government that we deserve the same portion of legal rights and protections as any other person. We’re moving to the first country to legalize same-sex marriage back in 2001. We won’t have to walk through our days deciding where it is okay to just be authentically and fully ourselves without fear of reprisal, professional termination or even violence. In the span of a few months and a 6-hour flight, we will go from abominations unworthy of basic human dignity to just a middle age married couple just trying to love one another, our friends & family and our work as best as we know how.
And as I’ve been peeking over the horizon to see the twinkling dawn of this new reality, I realize how far from American religiosity I have already come and how wonderful it will be to no longer beg for crumbs from the table of the American protestant church.
So, after a lot of thinkin’, praying’ and talking thing over with my wife (I do so like writing that), I have come to the conclusion that’s it’s time for a change. After this post, and maybe a flurry of Flashback Fridays, my blog will begin the transition from conversations about being gay and Christian in America to musings about being an expat in Holland trying her dead level best not to start an international incident while ordering a cup of coffee and a tompouce.
See, I’ve been saying (with varying degrees of grace and fury) the same damn thing in the 263 posts I have published over the past few years. So before I begin the transition of my blog from one sort of rambling hot mess to another, let me remind you of a few critical things. I’ve even created this here handy-dandy PDF that you can print out and hang on the fridge or use to line the bird cage.
God is love.
You are loved by God.
You are created to experience love.
Living into how you were created to experience love is not sin.
The bible is not God.
The church is not God.
You do not have to be part of ANY community where you are asked to live a lie.
There are some radically inclusive people of faith. If you don’t know any, PM me on Facebook.
There are some radically inclusive Christian congregations. If you don’t know any, PM me on Facebook.
Your sacred worth and civil rights are non-negotiable.
There is no such thing as A homosexual lifestyle.
It is okay to love Jesus and cuss a little.
So, that’s about it for now, friends. Be on the lookout for the new blog called “WTH!? Welcome to Holland…” where I’ll share my many adventures in trying not to be too obnoxious while looking for thin places in new spaces abroad.