The moment we stepped off the airplane in New York, I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Within minutes, my husband’s phone rang for the first time in two years, and we both stared at it like it was from outer space. People walked quickly, ate rapidly, drove with urgency, and spoke with purpose. I felt like I was out of breath in the first lap of a race. I didn’t know if I should grab the baton and jump in, hide, or simply observe as an outsider.
Without even knowing it, I started writing lists, creating serious deadlines, and running errands. I was less patient with the kids as the competing priorities mounted. By the end of my first week in the USA, I found myself too busy to exercise or even shower and I knew it was time to take a step back.
Merriam-Webster defines industrious as constantly, regularly, or habitually active or occupied. What I was experiencing was the habitually active pace that was so familiar to me before we set out to explore Europe. It struck me, even as early as arriving at the airport on U.S. soil, how industrious this country is.
I spent a great deal of time learning about immigration and talking to the kids about why our ancestors left Europe to settle in the United States. From 1836 to 1914, approximately 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States. Most of them came to make a better life for themselves and their families. They came to work in a land that was known for its limitless possibility.
I always knew that America was industrious but I have never felt it like I have the past few weeks. As we explored New England, I saw remnants of factories from the Industrial Revolution and beyond, that are shells of their former glory. The business model has changed but people are no less industrious. It is amazing to see layers of people constantly, regularly, or habitually active or occupied.
It is not that we didn’t see the industry or feel industry in Europe, but in our experience, it was not the pulse of the countries where we lived. Work was certainly not the nucleus that all other activity organized around. It was not better or worse but it felt like a different foundation upon which everything else was built. Given all the cultural overlap in our shrinking world, the values that shape nations can still be felt, if we stop long enough to experience them.
I think I am a better American now than I was before I left almost two years ago. I have a newfound respect for the tangible possibility in the USA, but I also understand that being overly industrious was a bit of an addiction for me. I believe in meaningful work but not at the expense of celebrating the gifts each day provides.
May our world always offer these differences and continue to teach us, through that contrast, that there are many paths.