01 May 2018

Archaeology of self

America is an idea that gets transmitted through the Internet in clips on YouTube and overheard accents when I stop myself from swinging around in a store or on a train and seeing who is there with me. Waiting in line to pre-clear US immigration in Dublin, I stood in the US citizens' line, with a photo of Donald Trump looking over me and suddenly the voices were everywhere. A man in a goatee and long-sleeved henley t-shirt standing there with his partner, whom you would not call his partner, but his girlfriend or wife, depending. The number of them only grew as I got further along in my trip: on the campus at the university where the conference was, other varieties of Americans I hadn't thought about in years. Everyone in sweatshirts, and people talking the way that Americans talk. You can't put your finger on what it is exactly, if it's the topic or the words they are using or what exactly. A conversation I overheard about whether or not a friend was being 'immature' or not and I wondered, have I ever heard a British person describe someone as immature. Is that a word they use.

On the subway, there was a man lying on the bench opposite from me, using his shoe as a pillow. He was black and perhaps homeless and there were raisins on the ground in front of him. He was like that, laid out, from Queens all the way into Manhattan when I got off. I watched people interact with him, or rather his body. Who sat and who didn't sit. Who moved when they could, or just stood, glancing at him and then at their phones. Later, I recounted this to my meditation teacher, Naga Davi. I told her that I found myself daydreaming about all of them, these people with this sleeping body — where they were going and what they were doing and if they had families and partners and mothers and fathers who cared for them. Was this a manifestation of metta, unconditional love for all beings, I wondered. Perhaps it was. It was something.

The conference I went to was ostensibly about Language and Religion, but most of the talks focused on translation. Someone mentioned metta. Someone talked about the Bible in the Solomon Islands. Someone talked about the Jewish scriptures in Greek. Between talks, you could look out from the huge windows of the university at the New York City skyline and eat fresh fruit provided on plastic plates which people used and threw away without any obvious guilt. It's America, after all — not Trump's America, but America America. With all the diversity of Americans who are still American, the SUVs and the drugstores that we don't quite have in the same way in this country. You can throw everything away.

And then I was in Newark, getting back on a plane to fly through the night and arrive home by bus. I came back inside the house on Victoria Road, which I own, and Yoko said, Is that all you had with you? I took off the small backpack I had brought, with a couple of shirts, my toothbrush, and A Hundred Years of Solitude, which I had read on the plane instead of sleeping. It was only a couple of days, I said, I didn't want to get bogged down. This was the truth, of course. I wanted to leave quickly, if I could, because I was unreasonably afraid of running into someone I knew, even in that huge city. I was afraid of the American me appearing, with a stain on a polo shirt, fifteen pounds heavier, telling me to stop lying. I am an American. It's insufferable to have to say that to yourself. Of course America is who I am, and where I belong. There are buttons on my shirt, yes, but you can't hide with this accent, with this passport. Everyone here will still ask where you're from. Near Chicago, that answer will never change, no matter how many British houses I buy or British children have my name and call me daddy. I'm American. It's obvious, isn't it.