Freedom

Thoughts From a Solo Trip

(pasted from a phone note — forgive my typos)

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Surprising American flag on the La Grande Roue de Montreal

I couldn't stand to be in the US for the 4th of July.

If I’m honest I’ve been restless since I came back from China, less content with Boston, feeling like there were bigger places to go and more important things to do. I want to live somewhere else, work somewhere different, gain some perspective again.

I was aware also, and disgusted, at how the United States has been declining into chaos, and how its foreign policy has been increasingly inhumane. Not that I defend its past actions as somehow better, rather, I was simply acutely aware of it in a way that was impossible to ignore. I felt suffocated and frustrated; I felt confusion and concern, with the country, with myself, with the future.

I couldn't find anyone to go with me to Canada when I decided I would leave--in part because so many of my friends are international and their country of citizenship unfairly determines their individual freedom of movement throughout the world. So I decided I would go by myself--maybe it would bring about some self-reflection too.

After about an hour and a half in my car, I was happy. I realized I really needed some personal time, time with just myself, and I felt privileged to be able to take that time in such an extravagant way, driving 5 hours from Boston to Montreal.

I booked a room at a hostel and bought a concert ticket for Mr. Eazi. So I would spend 4th of July paying in Canadian dollars and enjoying the music of a Ghanaian-Nigerian artist--an artist who himself had encountered visa issues when scheduling performances in the United States. No, I do not believe Canada is ideal or dramatically better--but at least Canada uses the Metric system, has universal healthcare and standard maternity leave, and generally seems to be bucking the trend of much of the world's increasingly nationalist, isolationist governments.

At least, during a frustrating time when I'm not sure that 2019 in the United States is much different from 1939, at least, when I crossed the tiniest border gate I'd ever seen from Vermont to Quebec, I felt a heavy weight lift off my shoulders. I laughed and played Tanzanian music with my windows down, likely startling some dairy farmers. There is another world out there, there is another world out there, there is another world out there.

The last time I felt this way was senior year of high school, when I would take light rail trips from the suburbs of Colorado to downtown Denver. I felt suffocated in the suburbs, too, and going to the city center calmed me, made me remember that not everywhere was like our suburb or my school district; white, upper-middle-class, and often racist. There was another world out there. Later, I fell in love with Boston and applied to schools there; it was a city not intimidatingly large but still bustling with activity.

I liked Boston, and I still do. But slowly, a little of the magic faded; in particular, some things were different or worse than Colorado, unexpectedly--segregation was worse, perplexing since Denver just wasn't very diverse in the first place. After seeing many other cities, I realized Boston was, in fact, small--and maybe I was out-growing it. I lived in the gargantuan metropolis that is Shanghai, and Boston never looked the same to me again.

Also important was what was outside of Boston, and how jarring it was, since that was even more deeply segregated. Towns of one kind of people split from other towns of others. I realized that for all the North says about the South, the North is actually more homogeneous. This wasn't necessarily negative, actually - - just jarring. The contrast between the city and the rest was jarring too, as I explored more of it. Outside of Denver there was Boulder not far; outside of Boston, it felt like, nothing.

But as I drove and drove and drove, through three states and across one international border, I felt these things leaving me, slowly, evaporating back toward the way I came. I felt lighter and lighter as I coasted across Vermont. The border gate surprised me as I came up over a hill. Once no longer on American soil the weight was fully gone from my shoulders; I laughed at the first sign that said "arret" instead of "stop".

I knew this little adventure seemed silly to everyone else. "Protesting? Why? In Canada?" asked everyone, looking for a punchline. But to me it was serious. I remembered a time that I distanced myself from my American identity; I feel myself doing it again. Maybe it is simply that I am falling victim to a meaningless narrative; maybe nothing about my personal day-to-day has really changed. But I just wanted to go somewhere I could stop feeling suffocated.

My lungs expanded fully for the first time in months as I sped along a country highway to Montreal. I felt like I was again in the real world, the rest of the world, no longer stifled, and able to participate in human society once again.

This is what it means to be free, I thought. Free to move about the world. Free to leave, and come back. Free to make your own choices; free to take control of your own life. The freedom of safety and security. Freedom that begins to look scarce. Freedom that not everyone has. Freedom selfishly kept and unequally shared. This most American thing,

Freedom.

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