I don’t know if anyone really realizes how alone one can be at this time of year. It’s the 4th of July, and to me this is actually one of the toughest times of year.
I came to this country almost 11 years ago now… so this is now 10 times I’ve lived through the 4th of July. It’s interesting, and it’s also sort of depressing. Even my wonderful wife, who understands me so well in so many ways can’t really fathom how this time of year makes me feel.
Today is a day for rampant patriotism. Oh, not the “modern definition” of patriotism that has come to mean “to blindly obey the US government”, I mean the traditional meaning; that of loving ones country. This is a good thing for a country, it reaffirms the feelings of kinship, brotherhood and history. America has a rich history despite its relative youth compared to other countries. The events that built this country from the original colonists into the industrial, powerful country that exists today are indeed interesting and fascinating. It’s a colourful history that Americans should be proud of.
My writing this is not to put down the tradition; I think it’s generally a good thing and actually enjoy it with my wife and kids, as well as with my friends every year. The loneliness comes from the feeling that I am not, have never been and never will be an American. Oh sure, I can apply for citizenship and get it. Even now I’m a “Legal Permanent Resident” meaning that I have the right to live and work in this country for the rest of my life if I so desire. But that’s not really the point; point is that I was not born in this country, and was not raised here. As a result, in some ways the celebration of country and kinship sort of bypasses me because no matter what I do in the rest of my life, I will never be “kin”.
Every year I go to a 4th of July party that a friend of mine throws at his place in the country. I enjoy it, I drink beer, I eat the food and socialize. I enjoy the firework display that he spends more on every year than I think I spent on my last car, but I still feel somewhat isolated from the proceedings.
I’m not regretting my decision to move here, either; this is still a great country despite my disagreements with the actions of the current administration. If I were to be able to go back in time and “re-do” my decision to move here, I’d still do it and I’d still do everything the exact same way. Sure, I have some regrets about actions I’ve taken in the past, but those regrets help define who I have become today.
So the fourth of July. I’m surrounded by people who are enjoying the holiday, yet I feel so utterly alone at this time of year that it seems almost painful. This is compounded by those who feel that since I am British I have no right to celebrate the independence of the USA, and thus I shouldn’t take the day off work, I shouldn’t launch fireworks to entertain my kids… basically I can’t partake in American celebrations if I’m not American. Believe it or not, this attitude is a lot more prevalent than many Americans would like to admit. For a nation composed of immigrants and their descendants this country can be amazingly xenophobic. It never occurs the these people that perhaps then if I am not allowed to celebrate the fourth, then I should be allowed to celebrate Boxing Day and Guy Fawkes Day. How would my xenophobic neighbours react when I start launching fireworks and setting fire to large piles of wood with dummies on top in November? I would be willing to believe I’d get a visit from several divisions of the St. Charles Police Department. Of course, many of them know me and would probably just toast marshmallows on the fire, but you get my point.
Despite the appearance I give, this time of year is hard. I do enjoy the celebration, but I also dislike it. I feel sometimes that I am celebrating something that I cannot actually understand because I wasn’t raised learning American History the way kids in this country are. I have read much about American history since I moved here, that much is true but I still can’t say that I connect with it in the same way as my wife does, or even the way my children are beginning to. I view it with a certain detachment that is a result of the fact that my history has very few connections to that American history except that I was “on the other side”.
Even that’s not entirely the facts though; many of my ancestors were hired as mercenaries in the fight against the British. Sure, I’ve got plenty of English ancestors as well who probably were fighting for the British, but it just shows how tied together the two countries still are. Many of those same mercenaries became Americans in time after the independence of this country. Some of them I know about, some of them I don’t. However, I have no deep connection with these people; they don’t even know I exist.
So I guess the upshot of this is that this time of year I feel somewhat isolated, and alone. As much as my friends try to include me, there’s something fundamentally missing from my psyche that forces me to feel somewhat detached from the celebrations. I can’t control it, and I can’t get rid of it. I understand it, and I know what brings it on but at the same time this cold logical understanding doesn’t help me much when I start to feel that everyone around me is enjoying a joke to which I am not privy to the punchline.
Think of those around you who may not be Americans, for they probably enjoy the fourth but have the same deep feelings of isolation that I do. Include them, and even if it doesn’t help them much it couldn’t hurt for you to look at them and say, “I know what you’re going through today, and I want to help in any way I can.” Be sincere, be real. Even if it doesn’t make the feeling go away entirely, it will reduce it just enough.