After living abroad in two different countries over the past couple of years and visiting numerous others I have gained a whole new insight about what it means to be an American. Usually I am long winded but today I want to keep it short and sweet. Today is a day in history that makes people around the world nostalgic and cognizant of a horrible tragedy that shook up America and the world as we knew it. Looking at the date, September 11th, always gives me a funny feeling in my stomach and brings thoughts of America, New York, my family and the incredible strength and resilience of the place I am proud to call home. Being an American abroad is an interesting hat to wear. I am greatly outnumbered and in the past two years I have spent on the road, I can count on two hands how many Americans I have met. I try to explain to my new friends from England, Australia, Canada, and basically all over Europe that traveling simply isn’t valued the same way in America. We don’t have “gap years”. I didn’t even know what a gap year was until I moved to South East Asia. Some of my American friends will read this and still not know. I am not saying that one way is right or wrong, but it simply is the way it is. Traveling for the vast majority of Americans is for 2-6 weeks of vacation, not a renowned lifestyle.
I have found that as an expat American I spend a lot of time answering questions, proving stereotypes wrong and explaining things that “we’ve only seen in the films.” I love being American and I love my country. Like any country we have many faults and we are held to an impossible standard due to the international spotlight we have held for decades but overall our ideals prevail and freedom remains paramount. I do everything in my power to enlighten everyone I encounter on how many beautiful people there are in America and represent the well educated, well cultured, middle class, open minded population who often get overlooked. We are so much more than the Kardashians.
I will save my criticisms for another day because today I simply want to honor the men and women who lost their lives and the millions of people left behind to pick up the pieces. It doesn’t matter where you come from if you were alive on September 11, 2001; you know where you were, how you found out and what you felt about it. Whenever the topic has been brought up with a group of friends from other countries, I can feel their genuine sympathy and empathy as human beings and members of our generation. Today I pause to be grateful for my life, my freedom, my country and my ability to create a life I love. I pause to remember all of the pain that this day brings for so many. We will truly never forget. Despite all of the superficial ways that America is portrayed in films, reality television and on the internet, I can genuinely say that September 11th is a day that represents the heart of America, the strength of it’s people and the ability to rise from the ashes.
I refuse to let the hate and tragedy of that day outshine the light. The stories of the heroes who sacrificed everything, including their own lives, those are the stories that need to be told. The countless fathers who never made it home to their kids. The police officers, firefighters, military personnel, and ordinary Joes who gave their lives to save others, they deserve the spotlight. September 11th 2001 was the first day I saw my parents as vulnerable human beings. The first day I saw my dad cry and the first time I realized that some pain is simply too great to put into words. In my humble attempt, I hope I remind my fellow Americans how truly strong and beautiful our country is, especially our people. I hope for my international friends, you get an authentic representation of how today feels from the inside. For anyone who lost someone 14 years ago today, my heart goes out to you. I know the pain never fades but hopefully the fact that millions are here to feel that pain with you lightens the weight of the burden. We simply can’t survive events like this without sticking together and searching for the hope under the rubble. Today and ALWAYS, I am proud to be an American.