In these days of borderless Schengen areas and expressways funneling cars across the U.S.-Canadian border at blazing speeds, the prospect of crossing an international border on foot seems more than a little quaint. Last April, I did so twice in one day.
I understand why my parents came to America. Where else can two fresh-off-the-boat, kiss-strangers-on-both-cheeks-in-front-of-the-local-blue-collar-bar foreigners eventually become locals? In the late 1970s, they stepped off a plane in appallingly-polyestered Kennedy International Airport as outsiders and by the grace of the American experiment, they now celebrate Thanksgiving, watch college sports, pay taxes, vote, do yardwork, have potlucks, and cheer for U.S. Olympians alongside Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution. They criticize this country, but they always acknowledge that in no other place in the world would the union of a South African daughter of a pogrom survivor and an Austrian son of a Nazi ambulance driver have been possible. I accept this, but even so, I've always wished I had not been born in America.
On the edge of the scene, I sympathized with the intimidated professionals and the weary grandmother, but part of me envied the energetic horde—social anxiety, overactive hormones, and all. Watching from the outside, I noticed the loss of my connection with their age group and I felt old. Unlike members of that raucous mob, I am no longer engaged in the exuberant assertion of my newly-discovered individuality. To wake up, I require two or more shots of espresso. I cannot imagine the preemptive wasting of energy on the doorstep of academia at the beginning of a day. I doubt any of the frightened, drowsy suits at the bus stop could either.
When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut (until I heard about the Challenger disaster). I wanted to be an astronomer (until I figured out they have to stay up all night). Then I realized that I just wanted to be the person who gets to make up the stories about the constellations—an illustrious profession I refered to as being a “mythologist.” And since the cosmos-naming gig never came through, here I am: suit-less and clueless and feeling incredibly behind because I have neither a job offer from Crédit Suisse nor a second round interview with Goldman Sachs.
Podcasts of This American Life and other radio shows devoted to making real-life snippets into stories got me through my bus commute this summer. Call it voyeuristic, but I’m fascinated by the simple truths of other people’s lives. I love to hear a stranger laugh about night terrors that had him convinced there was a jackal in his bedroom, a woman talk about the time she tried to write a break-up song despite her lack of musical abilities (and got in touch with Phil Collins for pointers), a man explain how he unwittingly became a paid spokesman for California foster kids at the age of 17.
In the last nine months, I have shuttled between Cairo, Dublin, Vienna, and Haifa. I’ve climbed Mt. Sinai, danced in an Irish ceilidh, been force-fed schnitzel by my Austrian family, played billiards with Bedouins in Jordan, and wandered through Jerusalem at night.
I haven’t been back to Portland, but somehow home has found me anyway.