Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Windows of Security

After four years living in capital cities outside the United States, living in suburbia is a culture shock. Many Americans I speak with express relief that I'm now back where it's "safe". But I don't feel safer at all. In fact, I feel decidedly less safe in suburban America than I did living in Jerusalem and Dhaka. I find the rows of big dark house spaces along dark, quiet streets rather spooky. (I'm sure the over-enthusiastic Halloween decorations don't help much either. Our evening neighborhood walks include passing by several partial skeletons crawling out of the ground and back-light bodies leaning against windows, watching us walk by.) The quiet, the distance, the darkness, the I-can't-hear-anyone silent aloneness is eerie. Who would hear me scream? And would any of those distant people, my so-called neighbors, care? I miss the lights, the pedestrian life-style, the people out and about, and passing my neighbors in the cramped stairwell. I miss the vibrant lifestyle that comes with proximity.

Houses. We're supposed to be safe inside our large, strong constructions. Strong walls fitted with heavy, solid doors that are closed with metal locks and protected with security systems. But what about the windows? The large glass patio doors? Maybe it is the tree outside my bedroom windows whose frail branches scrap against the windows, giving the impression of a wailing banshee begging to enter that got me spooked about the windows. But they glass seems vulnerable.

Simply put, my experiences and understanding just don't seem to line up with the accepted understanding around me. I feel that the American search for security and safety is buttressed by items: big lonely houses, fancy security systems, strong locks. I think you could extrapolate that to a national level in looking at our search for security in the world. And I feel like here, the goal is an elusive zero sum game: 100% safe.

And I think it's all a fiction. I'm not against locking doors or taking precautions, but I feel like buying into American Safe is buying into an illusion. And being here does not make me safer. With America's crime rates, especially of violent crimes, I feel decidedly less safe in America. And all the times smiling, well-meaning faces express their joy that I'm back home where it's "safe" I feel such a strong disconnect. I don't buy into the illusion of safe. There are dangers everywhere. There are methods of protection and prevention everywhere. And I wasn't living in a war zone and I didn't immigrate to Iraq. And when all is said and done, America isn't the safest place on earth. (Although, the living is quite good in many places.) So, I smile back at those well-meaning people and say thank you.

And I go on my way, feeling even more the disconnected stranger.

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