Friday, November 6, 2009

Why Stephen Fry and some orange-painted dudes made me cry.

We've been in Sydney for four and a half years now. And as it has a tendency to do, time has flown by. In four years, we've lived in three houses, held church services in four places, had two more babies and had a major transition as we became the lead pastors of the church. So there's been some stuff going on.

Jason and I love living here. In fact, there's a lot to love about Australia, y'all. With the exception of missing family and friends (which is a constant), I don't often feel homesick. My mom is reading this right now, and I guarantee that I am making her nervous. If Amy doesn't feel homesick, she's thinking, maybe they won't move home! Ma, I ain't saying that. It's just that we are enjoying our lives here and the culture, and on a day-to-day basis, it suits us really well. You can however read about some stuff we miss cough--free refills--cough here.

Every so often though, I see or hear something and get hit with a wave of nostalgia--a longing almost--for America. Now, if living overseas has taught me anything, it's that America isn't the best or brightest and it isn't God's "chosen place". In fact, America could learn a thing or two cough--universal health care--cough from Australia. But even knowing that, there are things that are so ingrained in your culture, so a part of who you are that when you think of them you're hit with a wave of emotion. One that sometimes you don't fully understand.

Is this making sense? Y'all following this? It feels like this post is being written by an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters.

I am second from left. Anyhoo.

I had such a moment a few weeks ago, watching a BBC documentary called "Stephen Fry in America". Stephen Fry is a British comedian, writer and actor and in this series he drives through all 50 states and highlights his experiences along the way. It is really worth watching, especially because it gives an outsider's perspective on the States. I think he's pretty perceptive.

In Episode 2, "Deep South", he travels through Florida and Alabama. The episode ends with him at an Auburn vs. Alabama football game. The camera follows him as he wanders around the sidelines of the game. He is in wonderment at the masses of people there, the fanfare, the outrageous fans, the electrifying atmosphere. Growing up in the South, this phenomenon isn't new to me. I know what big college games are like. But this time, it was like I was seeing it anew. The grandeur of it all, all this money and passion spent on what is actually a local football match between students. "Only in America," he says. For real.

I know that these characteristics are part of what some people can't stand about America. And sometimes I think they're right--any good thing can be taken to ugly extremes. But this episode just made me miss America so much. I'm not even a football fan. But the audacity and the abandon that would elevate a college football game and bring something like 87,000 people together to watch it struck me as so familiar, so uniquely American. It was almost like seeing someone you used to know well but have forgotten all about. I was like, Yes! I remember this now.

And then Stephen said something about the whole game experience that really struck me. He said, "I really don't know of anything that sums up America better. It's simultaneously preposterous, incredibly laughable, impressive, charming, ridiculous, expensive, overpopulated, wonderful. It's America." Gosh, I thought. That just so hits the nail on the head. All those things are America.

As he listens to the crowd belt out the national anthem, he gets teary-eyed on camera, and I was tearing up right along with him. And then, as if to make his point, two F-18s fly by right overhead.

I sat in my bathrobe watching all this with a huge lump in my throat. I'm not even sure why. I think it has something to do with seeing something again that is familiar to you, yet you know that you won't find it where you are now. Yes, it's excessive and maybe even a little silly, but it's part of where you come from.

When I started writing this blog, part of my purpose was so that my friends and family could know a bit about what it's like for us to build a life in another country. And much of doing that--having kids, being a family, working hard--is the same as it would be anywhere, I suppose. But what I've just described--that sort of culture-longing, for lack of a better term, is something that hits out of nowhere sometimes.

So that's what that is. If you get a chance, check out "Stephen Fry in America". Oh--and you can watch the segment I described to you on You Tube right here. I'm curious if anyone else has had these types of experiences--these waves of nostalgia or homesickness.

Or if you've read something else entirely produced by monkeys.


  1. Amy, this was an excellent post. I really enjoyed it. I want to see this documentary.

  2. This is one of my favorite of all your posts.

    It really is the stuff that you don't even think about that can catch you by surprise like that.

    I love Stephen Fry, I want to check that out! The football thing reminded me of that song Dave wrote about the south, remember? "Saturday we're watching SEC, if my team doesn't win, then just let me be."

  3. PS: I just watched the clip, and the way he puts it, it DOES make you go, "Oh, this IS essentially a local football game." But I was like, that's Auburn and Alabama!

  4. Okay and I know I keep commenting, but the look on his face when those jets fly over the stadium!

  5. Loved this post!

    One of my nostalgia stories: when I was living in Paris, and had some visitors from the US, we decided to try out this "Mexican" bar--I had passed it a few times, been intrigued, but never gone in. My friends wondered what "Mexican" would be in France, so we went in to check it out. We ordered some cocktails and an appetizer of nachos. The nachos came: 4 or 5 chips, artfully arranged on a plate, carefully decorated with a little bit of avocado, some nice sliced olives and tomatoes, a drizzle of melted gruyere cheese. So beautiful, so artful, so non-fattening, so French. But I was like: "THIS IS NOT A PLATE OF NACHOS, PEOPLE!! THE WHOLE POINT OF NACHOS IS TO BE PRESENTED WITH SO MUCH FOOD THAT YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY DREAM OF EATING IT ALL. BOOOOOO HOOOO! WHERE ARE MY NACHOS??" A sentiment that is, in its own way, so very American.

  6. Yes, I've felt those waves of nostalgia before, but never after having been away from America for 4+ years. Wow. Football does really illustrate America culture and post marriage I'm a total fan, but just of Texas Tech games.

    And just a bit advice for your next visit, drink slowly. We wouldn't want you to OD on these free flowing fountain drinks.

  7. I can sort of understand though from a different perspective.
    I never felt homesick for India after moving here, I loved it so much more here but lately I've been thinking back to India and the mad busy streets, the markets which I visited with my mum, etc and I've had that longing feeling which has come as a total surprise to me! All after 22 years, so what can I say? I dunno!

  8. "I know what big college games are like."

    Um...excuse me. Did you go to some other college I know nothing about?

  9. LOL David! Well, that's true. SMU didn't exactly have tens of thousands at the games. I should've said that I know what they're like from TV and living vicariously through my brother's college experience. :)

  10. War Eagle!! The game is in less than 3 weeks. This year, I'll be thinking of you as we watch it. :)

  11. When it hits me the most, Amy, is when my children do something that is so reflective of where they call home and do it so naturally & natively, as it remains so foreign to me. It just flattens me, every time & I didn't even leave the country.

  12. What a wonderful post!
    Honestly, it's silly, but attending a football game in person (went to my first Pitt Steeler game last year) was so moving for me. (Same thing with marching bands, etc.)
    It *is* a perfect way to describe America, the good and the bad. (Nachos, too! Ha!)
    And it reminds me of exactly how you'd describe a family.

    Good stuff, Amy!!

  13. Found your blog as I was looking for the video clip of this ( I saw it last year) as I wanted to remind die hard Auburn-Bama-Fl fans that in spite of our difference we can unite as was shown in this video of the singing of these rival groups of the uniting song God bless America. I was not born in America but having lived here most of my life I see where God has blessed this nation and honored the prayers of the brave men and women of the Mayflower and their hope to shine like a "city on a hill." Indeed God has blessed America and may he continue to let her shine and with Christians like you sacrificing to share the good news as he had commissioned-- I believe he will. After all I believe God uses America to change men's hearts as he has in the beginning to dream that with God at the helm ---"all things are possible."

  14. Hi Diana! Thanks for commenting. It's a great doco, isn't it? I agree--though I know America isn't perfect, I sure do love it. And there is a great deal that is inspiring about the people who have gone before us.