America, our love story, and how we fell out of love

19 years and four months ago today, when I was just 19, I woke up on the Gold Coast and discovered the United States of America.

Before the 12th of September, 2001, I knew of a foreign nation north of Mexico, south of Canada, where a few of my favourite TV shows, movies, and bands were from. I’d heard of ‘Bush’ or The White House’, and between friends we’d joke about “not having sexual relations with that woman.”

Seinfeld was tied with South Park as my favourite TV show, and I thought I did a pretty good US accent for a gag.

But as Australia awoke on the 12th of September, 2001, we learned of the attacks on the USA.

I was glued to the TV news for days. I had a computer at home without an internet connection and couldn’t afford a phone line plus dialup Internet, but found out that Telstra offered prepaid telephone landlines and prepaid dialup internet, so within days had my own personal internet connection I could spend endless hours on (until my credit expired) discovering this ‘America’ that was under attack.

I subscribed to Time Magazine and started reading stories of the American people coming together, being together, joining together, in the days and weeks after the attack. I was hooked.

I wanted to know everything there was to know about these people, and this country, that was so united despite the terror that rained down on them.

Over the years I’ve been blessed to visit the ‘home of the brave’ many times. I’ve spoken at conferences there, and even married many couples in Hawaii, New York, Oregon, and California. I was even supposed to be there this week for a wedding in Orlando - but thanks to covid I’m here, home, in Australia.

In 2011 when Donald Trump questioned if Barack Obama was “made in America?” it was simply comedy fodder for an Australian on breakfast radio. We all laughed.

But in the nine years since that tweet, through to today where Trump literally encouraged mobs of people to storm the US Capitol, that America I idolised has changed so greatly.

America was a place I dreamed of ‘making it’ and a country I always wanted to explore. I dreamt of living there and building a life a-fresh in the land of the free.

Today however, it’s a whimper of the country I researched so earnestly in 2001.

Today it’s divided, angry, and ignorant of the plight of the persons of America, so heavily focused on the synecdoche America, so ignorant of the American.

Oh, say can we see, that America I fell in love with 19 years ago?

Josh Withers @joshua