New Frontiers And The American Way
Why do we do this?
Why do we drag ourselves, our children, their toys, our books, their pets, our furniture…from country to country, all around the world?
Over the past few final weeks in Paris, we were asked this question dozens of times, by friends, colleagues, the parents of other children at Jack’s school…
Last Thursday, we packed a half-dozen suitcases and a half-dozen carry-ons, then, Friday, Lief, Jack, and I (well, Lief) hefted them into taxis, up to airline check-in counters, onto the luggage rack of a rented SUV, then into the dining room of my mother’s house in Baltimore. We’re halfway to Panama.
Over the past weekend here in my home town, again, from family and old friends, those pesky questions:
“Why Panama? Why now?”
“Why not stay in Paris?”
“Why not move back to the States?”
Bodies aching from the trans-Atlantic workout, minds fuzzy from the jet-lag, sometimes we’ve struggled for reasonable responses.
Last Thursday night, our final evening in Paris, I went to dinner with a bunch of local women friends. Around the table in that restaurant in Odeon sat an Italian, a Spaniard, an Aussie, a Brit, a Croat, four Parisians, and me, the American. They chatted in a crazy mix of French, Spanish, Italian, and English, and I did my best to keep up.
What did they talk about A desire for change. This eclectic mix of 40-somethings shared a common yearning for something new at this stage of their lives. Again and again, they brought the conversation around to their longing for more, for new, for different…for adventure.
The Croatian woman and her husband are considering moving to Australia to start a business. The Spaniard and her husband are looking ahead to when their children are in university and they can spend part of each year in Paris…and part of each year elsewhere in Europe. The Brit is thinking about Asia. The Parisian women and their significant others have no idea where they’d like to go or what they’d like to do, but they’ve got the itch.
They all recognize that it’s a big, interesting world. And they’d like to see a little more of it.
This was our first Fourth of July holiday in the States in 10 years. We took advantage of the timing to take the kids to Mt. Vernon Sunday afternoon to see the home of the Father of Liberty, as the Frenchman LaFayette called George Washington.
“Did you study the American Revolution in school “I asked our 19-year-old now attending college at St. Johns in Annapolis. She has a great foundation in European and World history, but I fear her Irish and French education may have left a gap when it comes to the story of these United States of America.
“No, we never studied about the colonists, and I’m confused,” she admitted. “Why did all those people come to this country in the first place? I mean…what were they doing here?”
“Well, some came because they had no choice,” I explained. “People from debtors’ prisons, for example, were shipped over here from England to help to populate the place.
“Others came because they weren’t able to live the way they wanted to live in England. They came in search of religious freedom.
“Others came to seek their fortunes. This New World was rich and fertile, a vast land of great opportunity.
“And others came in search of adventure. Who knew what might await one in this wild frontier? Some men couldn’t resist the urge to come to find out.”
So they packed up themselves, their kids, their belongings…and they made the long and difficult ocean passage to arrive in a land where they knew no one and had no idea what to expect.
The world is a different place today. Lief and I are moaning about our trans-Atlantic passage last week, but, in fact, we realize we’re getting off easy. We’re moving our little family from one continent to another. If the worst of the associated struggle is a couple of pairs of sore arms from lifting our baggage in and out of taxis and planes along the way…well, really, how can we complain?
The world has changed in the past 350 years. It’s more convenient, more comfortable, easier to move around in…
But people…we’re the same. We’re the same as those who voyaged from England three-plus centuries ago to populate those first 13 colonies…we’re the same as those who, some years later, sought to take their leave from King George, asking the British crown for the freedom of self-determination…we’re the same as the modern-day French and Spanish, Italian and British, Australian and Croatian would-be adventurers who sat around that table in Paris with me last Thursday evening day-dreaming about what life might be like…somewhere else…
After a few more days in Baltimore, we’ll be making the second half of our journey to Panama…to find out what life is like there.
And that’s perhaps the best answer I can give to everyone who’s been asking these past several weeks, “Why Panama? Why now?”
We could cite business, financial, and tax reasons for why Panama and why Panama now. But we could conjure similar rationalizations for a half-dozen other countries as well if we put our minds to it.
The truth is, the opportunity has presented itself. We’re fortunate to be in a position right now to act on it. We’ll savor the adventure, and we’ll look forward to finding out where it leads us next.
P.S. George Washington’s home, on the banks of the Potomac, with a wide, breezy porch affording long views both up- and down-river, has been recently and carefully refurbished. In a glass case on the wall of the foyer is a big old iron key, the key to the Bastille, a gift from General LaFayette. “To the Father of Liberty, a symbol of Liberty,” wrote the Frenchman.