I find myself a bit apprehensive on the eve of the General Election here in Great Britain. Last time round, the choice was clear. We needed a drastic change. This time, we do not need a drastic change, but the man in charge has not lived up to all his promises. He could have done more. Do we hold his feet to the fire? Yes. Do we then, feet ablaze, throw him out with the bath water? Looking at the other choices, I hope not.
This is the first general election in which I stand as a British citizen. I have been away from this site for more than three years. This is my first posting since coming back. These three years were filled with personal losses which led to a period of quiet reflection and a self-imposed exile. In the metaphorical desert, there is often a lot of time to think. The things you thought were once important seem meaningless. And the things you took for granted become important. In the end, I surrendered to all of the personal changes and just spent time reading, writing, thinking, tending to the wildlife on the property and yes, grieving. There was a lot of that, too.Through all this, I found that I became increasingly more cognisant of what it meant to be "British", and what it meant to be an American expat. I began seeing things not as an immigrant anymore, but as someone who deeply cared about the future of Great Britain. I even watched the World Cup and was actually interested. I still, however, feel in my heart a longing for my home country. I keep viewing the rights of Americans being eroded by the Patriot Act (which the President promised to abolish) and I see that rather than becoming a nation united because of the revolutionary and historical election of its president, it has become more divided. No one would have predicted that. Instead, the United States has been plunged into the unrest that was prevalent in the 1960's. How did that happen? More than that, I see that the constitution which has dictated freedom to the nation for centuries is now being dismissed and trampled. One sees things more clearly when one is away from the chaos. This has been my vantage point from across the pond. I liken it to spotting who is definitely "offsides" when you can view the football game from the bleachers, rather than from the ground. I have had a view of America from the bleachers for twelve years now. It has not been a fair game. No one is winning. It is as if the great country of my birth is sleepwalking in darkness. Everyone wants to know what the Kardashians are doing but no one wants to know what bills are being passed through Congress without being read. The Kardashians, to their credit, are emblems of the American Dream made good. But that their antics take precedence over the seemingly indifference to the erosion of civil liberties is quite another (alarming) issue.
In the past few years, I have seen good changes come to Great Britain. It has again become fashionable to be proud of one's country here. The sale of Union Jack flags has been brisk and flag-waving (once the strength of the "silly Americans") has been taken up with (gentle, mind you) fervour. The most moving example of this outpouring of British patriotism was the beautiful display of poppies honouring the First World War at the Tower of London. The ceramic red flowers, one for each casualty of that War, were resplendent in their beauty. It was difficult not to become emotional when one gazed at the scarlet field of flowers tumbling down the Tower and onto the grounds. Millions of people filed by during the exhibition and many were in tears. The British public has come to embrace the strengths of its country and what it means to "be British" as it grapples with the ever looming intrusion of the European Union. The British pound is still strong against the Euro. The British are very vocal on "non-GMO" foods, they attempt to buy local and support their farms and one can find organic foods readily available at all supermarkets without having to go to the health store (or Whole Foods). This is still, alas, not the case in America which is deep in the grips of "Round-Up" debates and still being told that Monsanto "Frankenfoods" are good for you. So were cigarettes till we found out the truth that had been hidden for decades. We can believe the corporation propaganda or do the research for ourselves. Sorry, Monsanto, I did my research. Keep your Frankenfoods out of Great Britain... and America, for goodness sakes, please wake up and take back your fields.
Another marvel in Great Britain is still the NHS (the National Health Service). Yes, it continues to be fraught with scandals (much of them having to do with the elderly and the overpadded salaries for administrators and doctors). Despite all that drama (name one bureaucratic organization in the world that does not suffer from that sort of thing) it still manages to provide free health care for all. Let me state that again. It is free health care for all. No one is forced to buy a policy they cannot afford or go into debt to have a procedure. If Richard Branson went to the NHS he would be treated for free and I would be treated for free and so would the next person in the queue . Is this how it is in the United States under the new system of healthcare? No. The NHS and I have not been the best of friends (I was in one of the worst hospitals, unfortunately) but it still amazes me that it continues to do what it does. The NHS has been good to other people I love and for that, I am grateful.
All in all, Great Britain has been ticking along and making great strides since the last election. The economy has improved greatly, there is hope in the air and a sense that we will overcome even we see darkness unfold in parts of the world. As we go to the polls in about 48 hours, it will be interesting to see what will happen. The election may prove to be a close one. The irony is that Great Britain seems to be discovering more and more of what democratic values are and how they must be protected and preserved from the encroachment of the EU. Not since the War have the British people been so aware of their precarious place on the globe but they still go from strength to strength. There are people still alive who remember the War that almost obliterated Great Britain. And in America, bastion of all things democratic, more civil liberties are being taken away seemingly unnoticed. Why? Is it because democracy has never been fully threatened? Perhaps it is being taken for granted. As I write on the eve of the UK General Elections, I only hope that peace and freedom and democracy will prevail in both of my homelands.
*(The last actual documented war on US soil was during WWII and known as the Aleutian Islands Campaign in 1942. It took 1400 casualties in a year of fighting.)