I have lived in the United States for about 25 years. This seems like an extraordinarily long time looking at it as a whole, but because it has been divided into distinct episodes – my first marriage and my current, two very different jobs – purchasing agent/accounts manager and research biologist, and different houses even if in the same city, it rarely presents itself to me as that whole.
It's only when I consider it relation to my early years in England that I consider it as a block. That is easy to do considering my life there and my life here were and are very different. There's no doubt that moving to the U.S. was a good thing for me personally. It allowed me to grow and strike out on a path that was distinctly my own. At this stage of life, with family and a degree of financial security and retirement not too far off in the distance, I could say that I have 'made it', and on my own terms too. This is a lot to be thankful for.
However, something is lost. There is no doubt that the uncertainties that accompany the scrabble to establish yourself are two-pronged. Yes, there is a lot of anxiety but there is also a sense of energy and drive. You are very much alive. No time for complacency and little to prevent you from following a new and unknown path – a path that can be very exciting.
On balance, though, I prefer being where I am now. I hope that what could easily turn into complacency and smugness is instead reflective and enlightening. There are different challenges ahead. It will not be that long – although hopefully as long as possible – before my wife's and my parents reach the end of their lives. I will need to adjust to a whole new set of circumstances, and the reversal of the caring roles that still inform my outlook. My son will grow and in ten years time will mostly likely be gone from the house. These are major changes.
None of this was apparent to me as a boy dreaming of covered wagons on the prairie trails and an America that seemed almost mythical. Yet those boyhood dreams in large part led me to moving here. I have found out that much that I believed about America has been false, and much that I disbelieved has been true. You have to live here to understand this country. It is so different from the glossy projections of the American entertainment industry, yet it is not wholly different. Problems it has, but strengths too.
The first concept you shake from your mind is America as monolithic entity – it is not. It is called the United States for good reason, and although you can drive from one of the country to other and almost invariably find that familiar cluster of McDonalds and Burger Kings on the outskirts of town with their invarying menus, all you are seeing is the surface. Beneath there are massive regional differences, based on history, culture, ethnicity, even geography. Not as diverse as Europe, but not that much less. Not all that surprising, considering the European immigrant antecedents of this country, but surprising in that groups that might have been totally antagonistic on the European continent cooperate perfectly amicably in the U.S.
Perhaps being freed from the land that has been fought over for centuries allows the ancient antipathies to wane – at least that's what I think. Regardless, the harmonious integration of different cultures – an integration that has now spread to include Asian, African and South American people – amazes me (and I certainly acknowledge that there has been and still is some resistance). I think it is America's greatest strength and the single most important component that will sustain a maturing country that is becoming increasingly forced to acknowledge its global military, political and economic limits.