The Art of Being Myself

I wish I could say America didn’t change me, but it did; it changed me in a hundred little ways, day after day, asking me to surrender tiny piece after tiny piece. I was unprepared for the false and flippant friendships, and unprepared for the way people use and abandon each other. I began a habit of walking alone at night, to experience the pavement without people on it; to listen to the wind when no one shouts over it. Harden just a little bit more, the cities of America seemed to suggest; care just a little bit less. If you don’t care, it can’t hurt you.  

I had never wished a hard heart within myself, but in America, I built a life that would permit nothing else. I began to drink too much because it was the only way to avoid feeling the isolation and the stress. I cried too often, filled with a nameless longing to crawl back into myself and recollect the things I had been, once. I dreamed of the girl I was; the girl who played the guitar and took the train, took her kittens across the country and wrote poetry, sang songs, and believed things happened for a reason. People asked me If I would ever go home. Yes, I said; of course, I thought. I told them, this country is terribly unkind. I can’t imagine being old here. They would think about it, and agree with me. Yes, it is unthinkable that we will be old here. But no one in their agreement thought to soften, or become kind.

In my deepest moments of honesty I have to admit that I’ve always had an idea of who I wanted to be, but I’ve never been very successful in being that person. It’s almost like that person would need space and permission and protection and safety to exist; and America has not afforded me those things. The American Dream – success, measured in financial and social status, was easily achieved – but no one tells you that it comes at the cost of almost everything the rest of the world values.

Nonetheless, I dream of home; and not necessarily in the external sense of the world, but rather, of a way of returning home in my heart. I dream of my ancestors, who valued loyalty and love, and imagine a heart worthy of their names. I dream of our stories, and the lessons that came from a thousand years gone, the memories of the ancient words still inside my veins.

Sometimes I am terribly afraid that I have waited too long to go home; sometimes I despair at the amount of time it took me to understand my nameless longing. But there is nothing to be done, except daily, gently, bring myself back to the things I have said I want. Like a novice monk learning to meditate, I am learning the art of being myself.  

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