Look through a window and we see the world outside. Change of focus, and we can see ourselves reflected in that same window.
As an American writer living in Europe, I feel like an astronaut on Apollo 17. While that mission ostensibly was to explore the moon, ironically the greatest benefit gained may have been the famous “Blue Marble” photograph looking back at Earth. For the first time in the long-short arc of human history, we were able to see ourselves in a wider, deeper context. Eensy-weensy we.
Keep your nose touched to the paint and you can’t see what the painting is about. Microscope and telescope for the bigger picture.
I have lived abroad much of my life, wide-eyed, exploring this or that. As an American in Spain, or as an American in Berlin, or as an American in wherever, that key word “American” is always there. As a character in my novel, Cadaqués, points out, “The tree has roots, darling!”
Okay, back to the metaphors.
We live within an M.C. Escher world. Interconnected. What looks like this could well be that. While I was born and grew up in America, my father was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, which is now called Zagreb, Croatia. My mother’s parents were born in Stettin, Germany, which is now called Szczecin, Poland. History is a lava lamp. Lines on a map set for a nanosecond, about as solid as smoke. Your own grandparents will tell you that somewhere along the way you, too, were probably hyphenated. Even Native Americans were travelers who happened to get there first.
Whether it was on a canoe across the Bering Strait, the Mayflower from England, a U.S. Liberty Ship in World War II, a raft from Cuba, or crossing the Rio Grande, Americans came from other places. Some of us grab our passports and set out once again, hoping to learn how “they” have influenced us and how “we” have influenced them. Because making the ultimate trip, cradle-to-grave, within the confines of a single national border somehow seems limited. That blue marble is small enough as it is.
And yet…we need identity. We can’t be everything or we wouldn’t be anyone, one of us no different than the next. So we take who we are where we are even as we change. Every expat will understand.