Compare-and-Contrast, the post-service experience of living in your head

Between the end of the world, supposedly, and the massacre of innocent children (which may as well signal the end of the world when things so awful can happen), I’ve just sort of wanted to turn off the news and go find an olive orchard to get away to lately.  But instead, I just feel pulled in and mesmerized by it all.  And everything I encounter, I find myself comparing with life in Morocco.

Case in point, after the Newtown tragedy, lots of news outlets were calling for a national discourse on mental health.  It was as if some higher up in the news world said, “God, let’s not make this about guns again.”  So, for the first few days or so, all you read about was how terrible we are as a country when it comes to taking care of people who are, in some form or fashion, mentally distraught.  I definitely think that’s true, you know, that we have lots of work that needs to be done to improving our quality of care for mental health.  But I can assure you that no matter how awful our quality of care may be, it’s not as bad as Morocco, or probably any developing country.  So, as someone who just spent two years in a country where schizophrenics usually said hello to me on the street every other day (one guy in town would always salute me and say, “George Washington!” to which I regularly responded in Arabic, “He was the first President of the United States,” and just smiled), I am hesitant to point the finger at mental health issues as the lone issue we need to tackle.  Why?  Because I felt safer with schizophrenics on the street in Morocco – and they were everywhere, including the guy who sometimes took a swing at me randomly – than I do in America.    That’s not to say that people with mental health issues in Morocco are nicer or less dangerous.  I know many volunteers who encountered their own fair share of troubles with people who had mental problems, some of whom were harassed, some of whom experienced much worse than mincing a few words.

But there was one catch: the mentally ill in Morocco do not have guns.  Come to think of it, outside of the military or the police, I don’t think I saw a single gun my entire two years.  And to add to that, I don’t think most policemen I knew carried guns either.

I’ve decided that people who are in favor of lax gun laws must be really optimistic when it comes to the human condition.  I mean, you gotta have a lot of faith in human beings to think it’s okay for any old bloke to be able to go out and buy him a semi-automatic rifle.  So, the old adage that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” as an attempt to get guns off the hook doesn’t really work for me.  Specifically because I don’t carry the same kind of faith in people to think the average person should be able to have just any kind of gun.

I’ve very much gotten off-topic.  My point was not to write some treatise on gun laws.  My point was, quite simply, that I’ve been thrust into viewing America in terms of my Moroccan worldview.  And while that might seem like a good thing, I dont really like this urge to constantly be in compare-and-contrast mode with my last two years.  Part of me wishes I could just replant myself into American life without always thinking, “What’s that in dirhams?” or “How would that be different in Morocco?”  As enlightening as it can be, it’s also this weird added stressor, like it’s just one more thing to think about or think through.

But I think it’s necessary.  I think it’s just part of this readjustment phase, that I would naturally need and want to think through the differences between these two countries I very much love.  Because embedded in all that compare-and-contrast is an attempt to figure out where or if or how I belong.  A good friend recently said to me “life is a series of losing yourself and finding yourself over and over.”  A bit cliche, perhaps, but it was one of those trite phrases I’d forgotten and needed to remember.  I think, sometimes, we’re better at doing the losing than we are the finding, or maybe it’s that the finding doesn’t really last long.  But I think my greatest fear, at least right now, is finding myself… and then not being able to get lost again.  So, maybe all this compare-and-contrast, this state of limbo I’m living through is something I should soak up for what it’s worth and be thankful for it while it lasts.

I hope you’re all warm and well, especially those of you tucked away in your mountain villages freezing your socks off.


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