It’s hard for me to understand why, but tradgedies like these seem to have a stronger emotional effect on me when I’m abroad than when I’m in America.
Maybe it’s because I hear the news late after it happened because not many people in Europe hear about it.
Maybe it’s because I feel helpless being so far away, even though there is nothing I could really do if I was in the States. Perceived helplessness.
Maybe it’s because when I’m abroad I feel in a sense that I am an ambassador of America. I might be the only American in the hostel or the only American people have talked to in a while, so people judge what I say and do as an example of American culture. And conversely, people might see the violence and hatred in America right now and relate it to me.
Maybe it’s because being outside the country has given me a different perspective of the country, being able to look at it from a distance and see its problems and merit from a new and more meaningful angle. It’s beautiful.
Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by people who aren’t American that don’t feel deeply for its current suffering simply because it doesn’t involve them. So I feel the need for strong empathy for the Americans suffering because I’m the only one in this area feeling it. Whereas in America, I would normally be surrounded by mourners and people who are outraged.
Maybe – and I think this might be the best explanation – it’s because when you are away from your country for a while, you develop a stronger sense of patriotism. Out in the world, everything is so new and different that it’s natural to internally cling stronger to what you know and where you come from. You feel the need to have an identity.
What goes along with that is a stronger affection for home. I notice it when I hear someone not from America saying bad things about America. I feel defensive in a sibling sort of way. I can make fun of America because America – in all its flaws and messiness – is mine. It’s mine to make fun of. But it’s not yours to make fun of.
And with a stronger affection for the country comes a stronger affection for its people, who are my people. And they are my people who are suffering. They are my people who are bleeding. They are my people who are shooting. They are my people who are hating each other and hurting each other. And it’s breaking my heart.