For many people, planning a trip to the United States can be a complex experience. The country is a mix of big, brash, and beautiful landscapes, and kind and considerate people, as well as an angry, seething, and scarred America where guns, hate, and extremism are prevalent. Both aspects of the country can be encountered at any time, in any place, which is the risk and reward of going on holiday there.
The author has visited America many times, both with and without their family. They have been fortunate enough to experience the big, brash, and beautiful side of America and the kind and considerate people who largely populate it. However, they have not been to America in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now that the pandemic has eased its grip on the world, the author and their family intend to return to a special place outside of Boston where they have spent almost every summer since their two daughters were born more than 20 years ago. It is a sweet, sun-bronzed home to mostly sweet, sun-bronzed people who open their old, well-manicured cottages to strangers from around the world and across America with a warm handshake and a smile.
Their trips have been a soothing respite from the hurly-burly of life where they have found rest and quiet for a fortnight each year. They dip into the ocean and walk along a beach that disappears into the horizon and doubles as a toasty, healing blanket for their sun-bath-loving girls.
However, part of the author doesn’t want to go on their belated getaway to America this summer. Part of them would rather retreat to Prince Edward Island (PEI), a distant, beguiling piece of Canada their family has discovered over the past two summers.
PEI is blessed with golden, sweeping hills and vistas dotted with bright-colored farmhouses that suggest a slower, more humane way of life. There are also the island’s pristine, calm beaches that stretch along the Atlantic Ocean’s sometimes jagged, clay-red coast. The water is warm and inviting, just like the mellow islanders who call this lovely, sanguine province home.
At the height of the pandemic, the author’s wife had arranged for the shop owner of a famous candy store in the village center to post a note in its window telling their delighted daughter that it was eager for her to come back. However, the author worries that the village they adore may have become infected by the darkness that sadly defines so much of America. They worry that the place they knew no longer exists.
The author also worries about the threat that America can pose to the mind and body. They worry that America is a risk not worth taking. Despite reassurances from their family, they can’t shake this disquieting feeling.
Much of America, for all its allure and possibilities, is toxic and dangerous. The country appears broken, consumed by discord and a festering fury that shatters people and places day after disfiguring day. The divide has deepened between enlightened America and too many other Americans who believe that guns are more valuable than books, and who share in the seething ignorance and bigotry of the false prophets they follow religiously on TV.
This is not a new phenomenon. America has always been a dangerous and divided nation. But that danger and division appear more acute these days, stoked as they are by a gallery of grifters and charlatans eager to leverage America’s cleaving into viewers, votes, and profit.
Beyond the constant tumult and depressing cacophony, America has become exhausting. Try as they might, the author can’t avoid paying attention to the drama and convulsions that jar America one news cycle after another. They can’t escape America. They are obliged to write about the promise and madness of America.
There is an impulse in the author that wants to stay away to avoid being exposed to a nasty, ugly America. Returning to America, even for two weeks, is, in this context, a little absurd. However, their family reminds them that the America they know and the Americans they have met are good and decent. They will remember this when they pack their bags and head out to an imperfect country that, without fail or hesitation, has welcomed them.
Despite their doubts, the author is convinced that gracious America still exists.