Finding my heart in America


Sunset at the Newseum.

Yesterday, I returned to America after being away for a full year. I arrived in Washington, DC apprehensively, weary and a bit confused after 19 hours of journeying from Bologna, Italy. I took a Supershuttle from Dulles airport, barely keeping my eyes open, and spied a Chipotle outside my window. That’s when I woke up. Chipotle. Wow. I’m home. Home.

Chipotle in Georgetown on my way from the Dulles airport.

I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures on this epic trip here with you guys, which is a tour of my favorite cities: New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, El Centro, and San Diego. But honestly, something has held me back from talking about it. And I’m not sure why. Maybe because I didn’t know how I would feel coming back to America after a year.

The problem is, I feel trapped.  Trapped between two worlds.  My life, my home – right now – is in Bologna.  And I love it there.

My citizenship, 30 years of my life, and my culture, are in America. No matter how hard I try to adjust to life in Italy, no matter how long I am there, I will always be an American. And this is ok with me.

So I guess I have a problem.  I don’t know where I belong.  I love Italy.  And when I’m there, I try to pretend that I don’t love America.  Because in a way, I feel like I have to pretend, I have to forget it, or otherwise I won’t be able to say goodbye to it for so long.

But now that I’m back I remember.  I do love this place.  I love baseball, I love diversity, I love customer service, I love unsweetened iced tea.  But most of all, I love the people.

Washington Monument at dusk.

And so, the same story perpetuates, my confusion continues. I don’t know where to put my heart.

Is it a unique problem to lose your heart? Do you know where your heart is? I wonder. I mean, do most people know where their heart is? Because I most certainly do not. I sometimes feel my heart is split into a million tiny little pieces and spread around the world, beginning in my birthplace, Lomé, Togo, and then dropped like breadcrumbs following my path across the U.S., back to Europe, and up and down Italy.

When I am feeling especially torn, or lost, no matter where I am, I always repeat home is where the heart is, home is where the heart is over and over in my mind. But somehow, this doesn’t help.  I’m jealous of Dorothy, honestly.  I would give anything to just be able to say, there’s no place like home.

But the more hours that have passed since I’ve arrived back in the U.S., the more I feel like myself. This is a dynamic country we live in. How can I let myself forget? It is impossible to feel alone in my search for my heart, because everywhere I go I find people from every walk of life, like me, that are searching for their own hearts and identities. As I sit and write this, I am overhearing the woman sitting next to me in the coffee shop who just returned from Rome last week after living there for five months, and is telling her friend about her difficulties with the transition. I will go back to my hometown soon, El Centro, CA, where much of the population is made up of Mexican immigrants, including my step-grandma, who was born in Mexico. And my great grandparents in New York were all born in Ireland. What were they all searching for? How did they feel leaving their old lives and the culture behind? Did they find their hearts? I don’t know. I don’t even know if they know for sure. But they sure were brave. And America is such a special place, full of people like this. Really really brave people.

My favorite portrait of Lincoln which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Much braver than me. And I realize now that finding my heart is probably too much to ask. Because maybe my heart belongs in different places, all the time. Depending. Sheesh, why must everything be so complicated?

Here is where the heart is. Right here, right now. Wherever that is.  Today, as I sit in Caribou Coffee with my great friend John, I am loving my iced tea and feeling thankful for all of this. And I can’t wait to have a veggie burger and sweet potato fries with ranch dressing at Busboys and Poets with my friend Nate who I’ve missed tons for the last year.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am missing Italy and two euro slices of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, drinking prosecco with my best friend Lena, sunset in my favorite piazza, and a million other things.

But, I guess these things I love are all in there. In my heart. And I have my heart, for sure. I can hear it beating. No problem. So I am good to go, no matter where I am.

Maybe. 🙂

4th of July with great friends.

3 responses to “Finding my heart in America

  1. Personal choice: As much as I’m loving the culturally diverse state of California, I’d choose Italy and Europe in a heartbeat. Ultimate choice is Philippines, with money though. Hehe

  2. Peggy! I really enjoyed reading this. I feel this way alot, simply moving from one place to another- I love Little Rock, I love Pittsburgh, I love Williamsburg- they all feel like home (although Little Rock will always be “home” cuz that’s where my family is).
    When you talked about your grandparents from Ireland, it got me thinking about the genealogy research I’ve been doing lately. All of us in America, besides American Indians, came here. We are the descendants of the kind of people who were willing to uproot themselves from what was familiar, from their families, from everything they knew, to relocate to a place far away because they thought the risk was worth it. They believed in the opportunities of this place so much that they decided, I’d rather risk everything for the possibility of a better life in America than stay here in Ireland, or Italy, or wherever where my chances aren’t good. Those are the kinds of people we come from, and the kind of people we are.
    So, I don’t think it’s so unusual to feel torn between “homes”- that’s who we are, as Americans. Where is home? The place we grew up? The “old country”? The place we choose? I say, rest assured, Peggy, the feelings you are feeling are completely American. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Home in Park Slope, Brooklyn | Gracefully Global Blog·

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