Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alone in America

I've been home now for just over a month, and have been to parts of four different states (California, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada). This has given me ample time and opportunity to observe my own culture, compare it to the culture I am used to in Spain, and come to some conclusions. Now, like anything, this doesn't apply to everyone, every city, or every anything. These are simply my observations, feelings, and conclusions. And my biggest conclusion, is that here, you are so alone.

In the United States, it is very common to live in a house. Most of the cities are composed of neighborhoods and shopping centers, but it's hard to find a block like those that are common in Europe -- apartment buildings, sometimes the ground floor is also a store, but if not, there's probably also shops, bars/restaurants, and other retail places scattered within it all. Here in the States, we have the area where you live, and the area where you shop. There are big clusters of houses that make up the neighborhoods, and then you, usually, get in your car and drive if you want to go eat, shop, or run errands. In Europe, you just walk downstairs, and probably within ten minutes on foot you're wherever you need/want to be.

Our homes are large enough that we don't really need to leave them if we don't need something from "the outside" world. We store up so much in the walls of our homes, that until it runs out, we try to avoid the store. We make small talk with our neighbors when we see them, but not many people try to take the relationship to the next level and actually turn it into a friendship. (Which is strange and silly, because who ever wants to stop living with/near their best friends?) And then, when we do have to leave our house for anything other than work, which is also found at home for many these days, you're in your car, apart from the other people doing the same things you are. You aren't in a public bus, because "they're dangerous and ghetto." You aren't in a metro, because, well, they don't really exist here. You aren't walking or biking along next to someone, because things are so spread out, to think about biking to Costco makes you prefer the thought of eating the grass in your backyard. Even the stores you could walk to in ten minutes, you never would walk to, because the thought seems so strange, and you are probably going to buy more than you can carry back. You aren't in contact with anyone until the moment of whatever transaction you left the house for, unless you had to ask which aisle it was in, because stores are so oversized and overly-filled here, that even with those little signs telling you what's there, it's still impossible to know it all. And then, you get back in your car, separated from the other people around you, traveling in your own world, thinking about your own time, in this little capsule that closes your off from everyone and everything else around you. And you go back into your garage, and close the door, locking you into the confine of your comfortable home, away from the world outside.

We are so alone here.

Our culture is not one that is designed around walking everywhere, seeing your neighbors on the streets, running into the checker from your usual market outside the pharmacy, seeing the same faces sitting in the plaza or park near your building, or all the kids playing together while the parents and grandparents sit on the benches and chat. Our culture is spread out, it's separate, and it almost feels designed to keep us apart and alone.

I know it's becoming quite a global way of being, that we keep to ourselves, stay in the mold, and try not to interfere with other people's lives, but when I see an older couple, clearly struggling, their electric wheelchair doesn't work quite right, so the wife gets out to try and push/navigate it across the street instead, then the plastic bottles they're collecting start spilling out of the bag, all the while they're on the corner of a major intersection, and there's another two people sitting less than 20 yards away, not moving a muscle to try and help, it makes me stop, think, and actually cry. Because, why are we so wrapped up in not being together, one, connected, to jump up and help a sister or brother in need? Why are we so comfortable with a distance being kept between us and others, that we are almost afraid to cross that line or border? Why aren't we actively correcting the loneliness that we feel inside, when all it would take it is saying hi to any stranger you see? Why are we the most socially connected people that have ever lived, yet we're the loneliest?

I love the U.S., I really do, and this trip home, seeing more of it than I might ever have before, I love it even more. It's a beautiful place, full of beautiful people, great food, and so much to see and do, but I cannot believe how alone we are in America. I can't believe how we could have such a strong sense of community and patriotism, but only because we live in a neighborhood, not because we are connected to the people living around us. Why do I sit here, surrounded by so much space, but feeling like I need to make myself even smaller? Why do I keep my eyes dead ahead on the road, instead of looking at the cars stopped next to mine, and smile at the other drivers? Why do I see hundreds of faces a day, but so few of them are smiling? Why are we so alone?

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