Posted by: David Weimer | April 27, 2010

Flushing, Ohio—2010

I lived in Europe long enough to forget how it felt to be an American living in America, right about things, secure in my opinions, oblivious of everything outside of my immediate life patterns.  That myopic existence had faded for me, remaining in my memory the way my high school life remained five or ten years after graduating, while I was living in Germany and then France, starting a family.

I returned to America and watched the New Year ball come down in New York on TV to celebrate 2003.  I was in my hometown of Fowlerville Michigan again after an absence of 18 years—I’d left three weeks after graduating from high school to enter Army basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Returning to America was a culture shock.  Nine-eleven had happened while I was overseas and I returned to a place that seemed to me infused with paranoia, fear and self-righteous anger.  Welcome home.  About a month after we arrived, I rented a moving truck in Lansing when our household goods arrived after making the Atlantic crossing by ship.  I had to give my fingerprints in order to rent the thing.  All ten fingers.  Welcome home.

Now, I’ve lived in the States again, and long enough this time to forget how it felt to be a European immigrant from America.  The memory of my time over there has turned golden in the years since; the good times and bad are all bathed in nostalgia, sweet nostalgia.

It feels like a strong memory of an important event in my life, such as the death of my father.  My father died in 1985 while I was at Fort Sill, between basic and AIT (advanced individualized training).  For ten years after, I thought about him every day; he was a constant presence in my thoughts, coloring  my daily feeling of living.

My memories of living in France and Germany are not that intense.  Just as strong, but not that much of a shock.  The living I did there happened to an older me.  My time there wasn’t traumatic.  It was life-altering and life changing and eye-opening.  It was another world for me.  I am very different from having lived abroad.  But I don’t think of my life over there daily.  Not consciously.  The effects of my time over there are more subtle, I think.  But my living over there informs my living over here.  In a good way, I would say.

Everything I see, everything people here do and say, how the American news sources report foreign or domestic events, for example—is all seen through a lens that I did not have when I lived here in the U.S. before.  Maybe it’s because I am an adult now, with life experiences and a family.  Leaving the States for the first time at 18 to my duty station in Erlensee, Germany, I was untested and a kid, fresh out of high school.  Going over there again, this time to Stuttgart, Germany in 1999 at 32, as a civilian, I was not a kid anymore, but I was an American who knew what he thought about things.  I had one cancelled marriage to my credit and some experiences.  In my international awareness-sense, I was a toddler.

I’ve lived as full and rich an existence in the past eight years here in America as I had lived for about five years in Germany and France.  For me, for my life, I feel a balance that is pleasant to have.  I have both views: my being here, self-centered, looking through myself at whatever ‘out there’ is; and there, looking over the distance at a people reacting very seriously, self-centeredly, kind of wildly, and just as myopically as I had, when I was there.

Until you leave your town and return, you don’t see further than yourself.  If you don’t ever leave your country, you don’t see further than your opinions.  It’s frankly impossible.  When you do leave your town, you can see how your town thinks compared to the new places you visit.  You see the difference.  It’s clear.  When you leave your country… Well now.  That was something.

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