I’ve driven on motorways and interstates and highways, but my favourite name for big roads is freeways. It captures that windows-down-radio-up feeling better than the other words—the speed and freedom of four wheels and a smooth road combined. Freedom to travel. Freedom to move fast. Freedom to stop whenever I want to. It feels good to be free.
Of course, this freeway freedom does come with a few rules. A speed limit, for example, and lines on the road that mark my lane, and some lanes that go one way and some that go the other. Simple enough, but very important—without those lines and rules, the freeway would be a death trap. Imagine driving on a freeway with no lanes, no directions, no rules. In one way it would be even more free, in the sense that you could use the road however you wanted to. But with everyone using the road as they saw fit for themselves, no one would be able to use it well, and a lot of people would end up seriously injured. That’s why we accept the rules of the freeway. We know that these boundaries actually give us more freedom to move quickly and safely to our destinations.
Continue reading The Free Way
Humans don’t fly. Every human in the world knew this for most of history—but I’ve flown. I’ve flown many times, over long distances, at heights and speeds that boggle the mind. How did I do it? I have no idea. I know it had something to do with aerodynamics and jet propulsion and lift and thrust and stuff like that, but mostly I just stepped through the door and when I walked out I was on a different continent. In my pocket I carry a small computer, which I know does something with invisible waves and towers and space satellites and stuff like that, but mostly I just know I can talk to my friends and family through it. I turn the key in my car, and I know there are belts and gears and little petrol explosions that push pistons, but mostly I just sit down and push a little pedal with my foot and wish the other cars would get out of my way. In the kitchen I have hot running water and cold food, and I can make the cold food hot in minutes with some kind of micro-radiation cube.
Continue reading We’ve Inherited More, But That Doesn’t Make Us Better
Said the Robin to the Oak Tree:
“Friend, I think that you must be
The saddest living thing
That the world has ever seen
Just look at me, and you’ll see why:
I catch the wind and soar on high
While you stay rooted to the ground
And wave your silly branches
Continue reading The Robin And The Oak Tree
I was excited. We’d only lived in Ireland a few months—long enough to begin to feel the reality of deep differences, but not nearly long enough to adjust to them. Our second son had just been born, a different experience in a different medical system, and we needed to register his birth at the United States embassy. American soil, in Ireland. It would be nice to get a little taste of all we’d left behind. A few hours on the motorway got us to Dublin, where we found the US embassy—a big round thing looking out of place on its street-corner, like a landed UFO. Like us.
Continue reading A Trip To The Embassy
Somewhere over the Atlantic, there’s a metal tube with wings. Inside, a man sits in a seat called 38F, surrounded by strangers. And the strangest thing of all is the fact that he’s a stranger, too. He doesn’t feel like one, because he knows where he came from and where he’s going and why. He knows someone. He knows the man in 38F. At least, he knows him better than he knows any of the people around him.
But they don’t.
Continue reading The Man In 38F
Put a kiss in my hand,
And while you’re away I can hold it
Up to my cheek
And be happy
Knowing that you really love me”
Here’s a kiss in your hand,
And while you’re away you can hold it
Up to your cheek
And I’ll give you
My love from a long way away”
My daughter is seven, but her love is much bigger than her size would suggest. She said this (ok, I’ve paraphrased) before I left home for a week, and here I am sitting on the other side of an ocean with my hand on my face and no one knows why.
Growing up in Alabama, I knew the rules: I knew when to say “yes, ma’am” and how to order a Sprite by asking for a Coke and waiting for the server to say “What kind?” I knew what was expected of me, and I knew what to expect from others. I knew how to say things so that people would listen, and when I needed opportunities, I was confident that doors would open and people would give me trust. And I was right. Even when I made mistakes, the trust remained and I knew I would have the help I needed to get back up and try again. Alabama was good to me, and I learned to expect it. I didn’t even think about it.
Continue reading On Being An Immigrant
Last year on our flight to America, my boys were looking forward to the Pac-Man knockoff game on the in-flight entertainment system before we even boarded. My daughter remembered which movies she had watched two flights before. She had just turned six, and was about to take her fourth trip over the Atlantic.
This was not my childhood.
Continue reading My Children’s Childhood Is Not Like Mine
Ten years ago today, I got on an airplane in Washington DC with my pregnant wife and one year old son, and we all left the only country we’d ever lived in. The airport was busy with people heading the other direction: it was Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day, 2009. A couple of meals and movies later, we landed in Ireland. We were met at the airport by coworkers, and on the way home we stopped at Pizza Hut. During the meal, my wife noticed that we had left the diaper bag in the trunk. No problem, our coworker was happy to get the nappy bag out of the boot. We looked at each other and knew: it might be Pizza Hut, but it was definitely not America!
Continue reading How Ireland Has Changed Me