I was wandering around a rack of super expensive three-season rain jackets when a fully armed police officer in a bullet proof vest burst into the room. More nervous than I’ve ever seen a police officer before, he quietly told everyone to get out as quickly as we could while he anxiously held his gun - poised for action. We ran into the street where we were surrounded by a barricade of police cars blocking every intersection - but then promptly ushered into a neighboring salon while another armored official locked the door and held guard with a machine gun. After a tense ten minutes of crouching behind the hair washing station, we learned that a crazed bank robber
with a fake gun had ran into the back of the building we were in, which had caused the mayhem – we were fine, but it was enough to shake us up.
We traveled the whole world with no real problems, and now here, in the Patagonia store, in the nicest section of one of the mellowest cities in America - Portland, Oregon, we found ourselves fearing for our lives. The irony!
Just as the shock of being confronted so unexpectedly in that store shook us up, it mirrored another shock we weren’t anticipating – returning back home to America. Certainly things like free potable water, owning cars, cell phones and abundant clean clothes were a welcomed and expected change. But what we didn’t expect was to see the way our perspective had changed in light of a life we knew so well. It felt like each experience and thought we had over the past year, had been like a small secret that we were told, ones that nobody else was privy to.
The contrast between the rest of the world and this place called America was evident everywhere I looked. I read an email from a friend in Rwanda the other night telling me how he cried at night because he was trying to feed 30+ orphans and failed – all the while profusely apologizing for telling me such sad stories. But the following emails were about going to an all-u-can eat buffet with a friend at home, spam telling me I needed to buy a new laptop, and a royal gala fundraiser for anyone wanting to support a certain political agenda. They were irreconcilable.
On the news, I kept hearing we were planning to bomb Syria, but judging by the people on the streets, it wasn’t a big deal – lattes and fantasy football were more important than the fate of the Syrians. I felt haunted by this knowledge of the rest of the world floating in my head. Our secret was this: that the rest of the world exists, and is full of real people, who live lives just like us, who are terrified of war, who want to be with their families or husbands or wives, to provide for their children, to educate themselves, to get a good job etc… the whole world is in fact made up of human beings just like us. (Except, most of these people were a lot less fortunate, a lot more repressed and have gone through much greater hardships than we could ever know or have). But I kept feeling like nobody else knew this or cared – maybe they thought anyone outside our borders certainly couldn’t be like us or matter to us in any significant way - they were just foreign somehow, as if their differences somehow could justify our indifference towards them.
It made me deeply sad to think this. Americans are not inherently bad people, we just don’t know any better most of the time. But why don’t we? And then I realized there is a war, but ultimately, it’s not us against them. It’s not our military against somebody else’s, Democrat vs. Republican, Christian vs. Jew, black vs. white, but rather, it’s our current pop-culture at odds with the poor and underprivileged around the world. It lulls us to sleep. It tells us everything is ok and nothing is wrong and if it is – the politicians will fix it. It blinds us from seeing the world with our own eyes. We are caught up in a culture that only serves itself at best and serves the people at the top at worst. It convinces us that there are no problems, and if there are, then there’s nothing we can or should do about them.
America is the most powerful country in the world. Americans can change the world if we want to – we have and continue to do so everyday (not always in good ways). But we squander this power in nonsense. We use our resources in vain to achieve a political agenda, to fulfill our darkest desires, to either build ourselves up, or make ourselves complacent and entertained. There are countless nations of everyday people who put their hope in us creating a better world and a brighter future, but instead, we’re completely preoccupied with ourselves. What we don’t realize is that as citizens, we can do incredible things if we want – and that the world needs incredible things. The divide between the potential we see in America and the way we are misguided and blinded by our own culture is what causes this heartache - a problem whose remedy seems so simple, yet so far away.
If we don’t exercise our freedoms – to vote (with our ballots and our actions), to speak truth, to gather together and to brainstorm and create, to be better stewards not only of our own nation, but of the world, then what kind of wasteland are we building for our children and our children’s children? So we beg you to look around. Read the news. Educate yourselves about the world and then tell your neighbor about what you’ve learned. Find something you’re passionate about, and then do something – most people in the rest of the world don’t have this freedom.
We’re planning to end this part of our blog on that note. That is why we’ve tried so hard to write about the things we saw and felt and thought were important rather than our day to day gallivants. We both feel like we’ve been given a treasure to see the world as it is; a perspective only afforded to a lucky few – and it’s this treasure that we hope we have been able to share a little bit of over the last year. Without a doubt we will be trying to find ways to share it in the coming months and years, and for the rest of our lives.
To all our family and friends and those we have never met and have followed us this year, we sincerely and with deepest gratitude thank you for taking an interest in our journey and following along with us – we hope it helped to open your eyes a little bit wider, like it did ours.
Emily & Tim