Just a few moments ago, I was lying in the hammock enjoying the warm sun, which has just come out from behind the clouds as it slowly moves to set behind Mt. Scenery over my right shoulder. The sudden warmth made me close my eyes and rest my mind. A few minutes later, the muted sound of a car horn on The Road a few hundred yards away and the bleat of a nearby baby goat brought me back to the present moment.
As I opened my eyes, I looked at the palm tree in front of me, eight green coconuts hugged against the trunk near the top. I pondered what it would be like to live in a place like Saba, far from the politics of war and division, Code Orange alerts, beready.gov and all of the other things our status as Americans has brought into our daily lives.
Pollution, taxation without representation, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now potentially Iran. Corporate CEOs who make millions for themselves and billions for their shareholders selling products made in China that they know are dangerous but that come with a cheap price tag. Religious persecution, near-institutionalized intolerance (think anti-gay Constitutional amendments) and a world view that is so narrow, major broadcast networks put news of Brittney Spears ahead of the tragedy that unfolded in Burma recently.
Surely, there are problems in a place like Saba. We’ve heard some of them already: taxes are a major issue here, not to mention the fact that one island from the Netherlands Antilles has already left the union to gain an independent status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. But for a few minutes in the hammock, I thought about which set of problems weighs heavier on the heart and soul: that of living with deeply partisan politics that directly effect me and my partner, not to mention millions of otherwise innocent people around the globe who either suffer or could have their suffering reduced if only our nation had its priorities straight, or that of a Saban.
Earlier today, I told a complete stranger that Shawn and I were married last weekend in Canada, and that our trip here is our honeymoon. She was overjoyed, but then she looked at me with a deadly serious gaze: “Why would you live somewhere that doesn’t respect you and the person you love? It’s not like that here.”
That’s oversimplifying the issue, to be sure, and when she said that, I couldn’t help but to think about the famous Gandhi quote about being the peace/change you want to see in the world. Even so, the question gnaws at me every day, and will probably continue to do so until the end: is being an American worth it when we have so many deep, deep problems at home and abroad? And had I been so fortunate as to be exposed at a younger age to a somewhere like Saba, or Cambodia, or countless other places I’ve visited, read about or studied, would I still live in American today?
Don’t get me wrong – everyday at home, I see countless examples of the United States of America as the land of freedom and opportunity. It wasn’t that long ago when my own family came to those shores looking for something better than what they had. But the world of today is a deadly and dangerous place. Billions of people live, breathe and die by the decisions that are made in Washington, D.C., and in our financial capitals like New York and Chicago.
More and more, I feel powerless to do anything about it, except to give my own resources when and where I can to make a difference.
So as I prepare to journey home tomorrow, I will hold a mountaintop cottage in Saba in the back of my mind. As I fill out separate forms from my legal spouse and go through customs and immigration by myself, I will think about places like Canada, and the Netherlands and South Africa and Denmark and even Mexico City, where my marriage would not only be recognized, but would be embraced.
And I will go home with both a sense of purpose and a feeling of helplessness, yet I will find the resolve to be the change I desire to see in the world.
Still, I’ll leave a little part of me behind, swinging in the hammock, wondering how different the world could be, if only…