On the Fourth of July

When I was perhaps nine or ten, I asked my mother why people had to be citizens of a particular country. Why couldn’t we do away with borders and instead be citizens of the world? It would break down the barriers between people and put an end to wars. We could travel where we liked when we liked. Communication would be no problem because we would all speak fluent Esperanto. Wasn’t there a United Nations, after all?

Moms tend to be good at questions like this, and my mother’s reply was both thoughtful and practical. She pointed out how many countries there were, each with different laws and customs, and asked whose rules would prevail? How could any one entity govern the whole world? There might be even more chaos and wars than before. Being from a specific country, on the other hand, gave you a well-defined set of rights and responsibilities, an identity, a place to call home.

“It’s good,” said my mom, “to be from somewhere.”  

So where are Eric and I from now? Our passports, of course, are American and we have a mail forwarding service in Florida. Similarly, Corroboree is a federally documented US vessel and is registered in Florida with St. Augustine as her home port. And we loved living in St. Augustine and made many dear friends there. So when people we meet en route ask where we’re from, “Florida” has been the natural reply.

But for how much longer, I wonder? Currently, we’re in Puerto Rico and hope to be moving on soon to the US and British Virgin Islands. In these areas, where most people are familiar with the individual states, “Florida” is probably still the most useful answer. Yet already time and distance are playing their part. Six months and 1,500 miles into our journey, it no longer feels quite accurate to say we’re from Florida anymore.

 “We’re from our boat,” we say when we find ourselves explaining to people that we no longer own a house, an apartment or even a storage unit back on shore. “This is it, we’re from here.” These past few weeks, I find myself using another telling phrase. Where we’ve finished running errands or sightseeing, I no longer say to Eric, “Let’s go back to the boat.” Instead I say, “Let’s go home.”

But we’re still from the United States, right? That’s the correct answer when clearing Customs in foreign countries, so as we head farther down the islands to places like Antigua, Dominica and Grenada, it makes sense to say we’re from the United States to people overall. Except, sadly, it’s beginning to feel as if we’re not from there anymore either.

For reasons that are obvious to anyone who knows us, we are increasingly dismayed by what is happening in our country. The lack of compassion for the less fortunate. The gutting of environmental protections. The blithe acceptance of fake news and “alternate facts.” The rise in hate crimes. The war on science. This is how we make America “great” again?

“You were smart to leave when you did,” say friends back in the States, but no, that is not why we left. The timing of our departure in January 2017 was purely coincidental, and though it is a blessing not to be inundated with news of the embarrassments emanating daily from the Oval Office, we haven’t turned our back on the issues. While Eric writes to our congressional representatives in favor of affordable health care, my job is to research the countries we visit so we can be informed travelers and not Ugly Americans. We’ll continue to look for volunteer opportunities wherever we can find them. Thanks to our mailing address in Florida, we can and will vote in state and national elections.

On this first Fourth of July aboard Corroboree, Eric and I will be thinking about what is still good and true about America. Freedom of speech. Our beautiful national parks. The ingenuity and imagination that sends us into outer space and deep beneath the oceans. Our arts and music and museums. Our ability, when it matters, to pull together and get the job done.

I’m still enamored of the idea that one could be a citizen of the world, and it’s no accident that my first real job out of college was at the United Nations headquarters in New York. But Mom was right—it’s good to be from somewhere—and I want to be from a country that I recognize and respect. I want that country to be the USA.