I've been thinking about our trip to Europe. I remember thinking about how there will be a time when it's a memory, and now it is, and I wish the time there could have lasted longer. A lot of folks suggested that going there would change my perspective about "things," but really it just confirmed a lot of things that I already felt.
It has been a troubling few years to be an American. Granted, you still have in many ways won the birth lottery to be born here, relative to some other places. But a lot of what you were brought up to believe and understand as fundamental to the American experience has been challenged. I used to believe that democracy over all things is a core value, but we've seen a former president, a front runner for his party, suggest "suspending" the Constitution. I once marveled at the way that America led the way in the advancement of technology, but now we protect old ways of doing things and let China dominate those new opportunities (I'm looking at you, renewable energy industry). We have problems like gun violence that don't happen in any other developed democracy. And unbelievably, we spend the most on healthcare per capita with terrible results.
Going to Europe, or even reading about it, shows you all of the ways that we aren't nearly as great as we thought. I say this not to be "down" on the United States, but rather to hope that we can be more self-aware. I saw an interview recently with Bono from U2 where he said something that I loved. He said that the US might not be the greatest nation in the world right now, but it can be, and that he was optimistic that Americans could get it there. I think that he's right about that, even though I have little reason to be optimistic. I think that things have become so absurd now that the only place to go is to correct course.
Europe reminds you how relatively short our history is. You can, in a short amount of time, go country to country, and see differences in culture, in language, in art and architecture. There's something wonderful about encountering these differences. I'm not entirely sure why this diversity is so appealing to me (autism tends to cause an appetite for routine), but it's fascinating how different circumstances and lived experience can make the world so different. I remember on one of the bus tours in Iceland, seeing that there were obviously houses where people lived, but there was something different about them that was subtle and hard to describe. There were electrical plugs outside of garages, and sometimes plugged into cars in the street. There were busy swimming pools with giant water slides. There were all kinds of store fronts that seemed imagined. The weather was cold, but the people were warm and inviting.
The biggest takeaway is that we just didn't have as much time there as any of us would have liked. At the same time, part of the reason to do it by cruise was to see a bunch of countries without the burden and lost time of travel in between them. When you wake up and your "hotel" is elsewhere, that's pretty amazing. We especially liked our shoulder cities, London and Copenhagen, but we were also very enamored with Alesund. I hope that we can return to some of those places, but at the same time, I feel like we need to see the other side, from Portugal to Turkey, not to mention the places we didn't get to, like Ireland, Germany, Sweden and such.
Oh, and there are four other entire continents still to explore.