Note- This is a “creative nonfiction” work that I submitted last semester in my creative writing class. While I am still trying to perfect my style and avoid my weaknesses, I am pretty satisfied with this work regardless.
Much Ado About Liechtenstein
“Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.” -A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
Midnight may be great for many things: snacks, parties, finishing homework assignments, and Netflix binging, but for me it was great for the conversation I was having in a dorm room with the closest friend I’ve made since going to college. In fact, one of the closest friends I’ve made in my life. Period. My legs were folded over her lofted bed, covered in a white blanket and miscellaneous Disney memorabilia (she may or may not have a slight obsession with everything Disney) and she sat in a chair, much lower to the ground next to her desk. Outside, people aren’t bustling around like they usually are and it’s eerily quiet. It’s a weekend and they were probably out or home, not sitting in a dorm like us. We’ve been like this for hours, first talking about her position on drinking and then how I was too afraid to ask out this guy I’ve been crushing on for a while; she lost a friend in a drunk boating accident and I was just merely a chicken. Then we talked more about loss, fear, and the pain of getting hurt. About dementia and unexpected death. About dying alone, or never having anyone fall in love with us ever again, in which she replied to me “I’d date the h*** out of you if I were a lesbian.” Extreme as that sounds, we just had that kind of friendship. You just had to see it in action to understand it.Then we reflected on our previous relationships, and why they didn’t work for us. Maybe we were difficult for others to love, but not unlovable.
This was definitely no ordinary conversation; it was an act of two souls baring themselves to one another, in the purest and simplest form you could ever imagine. It was detrimental for our survival, because sometimes you just feel as if you need these kinds of conversations in your life. Without them, you break down and then break apart into tiny pieces.
Two hours past the conversation’s initial start, we arrive here, just minutes away from midnight. My friend is a geography major, and beside her bed are two world map prints plastered on her wall. One of them is much larger than the other, but the smaller one is more updated; it shows Sudan’s recent split.
Many of our mutual friends tease her about her major. First of all, many people have the common misconception that geographers study rocks, and this bothers her the most. She would protest “I don’t study rocks!” and then hold a grudge on whoever made the unfortunate mistake in the first place. I actually find it amusing. What wasn’t so amusing, however, was the intensive questioning and interrogating she would sometimes get after. I could relate to her on all of this; you meet a lot of resistance when you are a music education major. The comments and questions would often go like these: What are you even going to do with your major? Shouldn’t you do something else a little more worthwhile, like becoming a lawyer or doctor instead? Phew, you need to marry someone rich (if only I had a dollar for every time I heard this, I would be)!
Anyway we are finally sitting in the “now,” and the stroke of midnight flips on our philosophical switches just like it turned Cinderella’s coach back into a pumpkin. We looked at those maps, and it was like our perspectives on the world and our lives had changed. Having your perspectives just shift like that is transcendental, spiritual even, and gazing at large scale maps in someone’s dorm room can make you think about many things. For one, it makes you think about time and motion. The Earth is spinning, and the world is happening all at once. We are all spinning at once.
I wondered out loud if you could ever be still enough to feel the earth move. Now I promise that I wasn’t drunk or high when I thought about this, and I also know that I’m not stupid and there was an explanation for this somewhere I didn’t want to look, but I thought about it anyway. I’ve been feeling it move my entire life, but I’ve never actually felt it move. We could be on the underbelly of the globe right now (again, I’m being hypothetical, not dense) but forces (ie. gravity) hold us in, and give us the perception that we are not upside down, the world is actually flat, nothing is spinning or rotating, and nothing else exists out there beyond us. Just like it is just us in the dorm room with a stuffed Simba and no one else around us. We knew that wasn’t true, but it didn’t matter because that is how we felt; that was the perception.
Before she got into geography, my friend (who will remain unnamed) told me that she wanted to work for NASA as an astronaut. Fascinated and terrified by astronomy, she wanted to be propelled into the abyss that we call outer space. She wanted to see the Earth for herself. Like me, she was stuck in this conundrum of knowing how the globe worked, but not entirely believing it because it was just so incredible to believe without seeing. So she aspired to be shot into the beyond and to the moon, just so she could see the world we live in, all together and in one single form.
“But then I became diagnosed as a diabetic,” she said matter-of-factly. So there went her opportunity of ever flying in a space shuttle. But she has accepted it after many years and then moments and has refocused her attention back to the wall.
“I think time happens all at once,” she said, a moment later, going back to the comment I had made before about the earth’s rotation.
“Yeah?” I responded, not entirely grasping what she meant by that statement
“Yeah,” she says. “Like everything that has ever happened to us is all at once. Like our past lives or something happens together.” She gets up out of her chair and her stool scrapes against the floor when she pushes it with her foot. She is too short for a lofted bed but I know better than to tell her that. We’re on the opposite ends of the height spectrum, and the jokes while funny, are old. Then the mattress squeaks and she is sitting beside me, her head inches away from Africa. Her eyes scan the map again and before I can even respond, she speaks again.
“People tell me that all geography is is looking at maps of places you will never be able to go in your life. The way I see it is that it is a map, but it is filled with places I want to go, and places I will go whenever I get the chance. It’s just so fascinating.” Upon hearing this I twist my body toward the map, pushing myself onto my knees so that I can get a better glance. I can read the tiny names written in black ink on the Atlantic. I can see islands that I couldn’t before. Then I see a yellow familiar boot-shape. Italy.
A common ice-breaker that I’ve heard far too many times in my life is “if you could go anywhere in the world, where is it that you would go?” It’s a valid question; more of us want to travel off to somewhere new then we let on. My mom was and still is set on Australia and my dad doesn’t even want to leave the county. For me, it used to be England. There was tea and royalty, and plus I was a huge Harry Potter fan. Now, my heart still wants to visit London, but it has ventured out this time into the Mediterranean. Italy, Greece, Turkey. And with my study in music, Italy stuck out to me from the cultural standpoint. It has been on my bucket list for years now.
“Where would you want to go first?” I asked. I’m expecting her to answer quickly but she actually takes a moment before responding. Then she points a finger over China.
“Here,” she says as her finger still hovers over this place filled with ancient tradition, the longest wall, the largest population, Buddhism, and Mandarin. Given her Jewish heritage, I find myself feeling slightly surprised. Genealogy is also a favorite discussion point among her and her family. She could tell you just what percentage of each ethnic group existed in her genetic makeup. She did in fact tell me this in detail sometime last year. Meanwhile I don’t even fully know the origin of my own last name.
“But do you want to know what my second favorite country in the world is?” She has this giddy, childlike look on her face and I know just by that expression that I’m going to have to play her “guess the country” game again.
But she doesn’t hesitate. “It’s one of the greatest countries in the world, yet no one even knows about it.” Her hand scans over Europe and then I recall a tiny tidbit of information from one of my English classes. Geography was no longer required of students to learn in order to meet the academic “standards” so if you learned about it, it was a surprise. However, during my senior year we had a whole unit on European literature in English so therefore, my teacher decided that we look at a map then. She told us we needed the culture.
Back to the map. I’m scanning all over Europe and I swore I knew it. I even remember looking at the map and wondering “woah, how long has that been there?” A name appears to me, and it is almost on the tip of my tongue.
“Lit-” I start.
“Liechtenstein. And do you know what makes it so great?” I shake my head. Beats me.
“It has one of the highest GDP rates in the world, some of the lowest unemployment rates, and no military.”
Upon further investigation I later came to find out that along with this information, the literacy rate of the country is almost at one-hundred percent. Food for thought: as of 2013, over thirty million Americans were illiterate. That is nearly fourteen percent of our population. Liechtenstein also has one of the lowest crime rates ever. Prison sentences fail to surpass two years, and citizens feel comfortable enough to reduce security measures in a way that other countries would think is insane. For example, in my own home, the garage door would be shut at night with the side entrance locked, and then the other door entering the house inside this same garage would be locked as well. Our windows are locked, and my dad keeps a gun inside for safety. But the thing is that we live in a safe neighborhood. So why do we have to take all of these measures?
This question applies in more ways than just this one. What about rape culture? Gender identities? Why should someone have to go through so many measures to ensure that nothing bad happens to them on what is supposed to be a fun night out? Why should people have to fear being themselves, and getting hurt or threatened for it? Why are we afraid of the homeless people asking for money in the street? Why are we so afraid to trust? Ethics aside, is it logical to not have a sense of trust?
And then a large-scale question pertinent to American existence: what about terrorism and national security threats?
We have been subconsciously trained by crime reports, relentless media exposure, and terrorism fears to take the more extreme measures. In America, these measures seem to be taken everywhere you turn. Schools, hospitals, college campuses, and even shopping malls. Let’s face it: bad things happen sometimes. People can be nasty creatures. Evidence supports this, and sometimes even rationalizes our fears. But we are still paranoid on a daily basis, living in a constant never-ending state of fear. Meanwhile, there is this far off country who leaves nothing locked, and doesn’t even have an army (which it doesn’t even need in the first place) to protect itself? There is this story about Liechtenstein getting “invaded” by its neighbor, Switzerland. It was completely accidental; Swiss members had no idea that they crossed international borders. It was so casual and a matter worth laughing over. No harm, no foul. But that was one of the bigger “conflicts” that it has ever experienced.
If that wasn’t enough, it also baffles me entirely as to why hardly anyone has ever known this information about the country, let alone heard of it. It is peaceful, prosperous, and educated. It has qualities that I believe nations should strive for, but they don’t. Liechtenstein is literally the alternative cool kid stereotype that you would find in contemporary high schools. They’re the vegan kids, or members of the high school jazz band. They’re different, but they stand out and they’re everything you want to be; everything about them just seems to be right. They aren’t clean cut and traditional, but their methods work for them, and there is this element of intrigue. Yet, at the same time, no one tries to be like them. While the idea of excelling sounds like a dream, the idea is also terrifying; it’s an identity crisis in the works. That is why we will never amount to anything even close to this unordinary country. I know of numerous people who relentlessly want to pursue a path toward radical change, but then I know of many people who are okay with this sense of complacency in our nation. I see this divide putting us all into limbo. Complacency is sometimes put into a positive light but should never be seen as a good thing. Like our relationships with other people, our relationship with our country should never be stagnant. We are too afraid and complacent with where we are now, and if we remain that way, a lack of positive change is inevitable.
So as I sat beside my friend in her dorm room on the hill, I couldn’t help but to be a cliché and think about my life. I was on the path that I wanted to be on, but yet I was so… discontent. My life was an unorganized and a total, absolutely chaotic mess. But yet nothing about life and the universe we live in is ever perfect. Universes exist and sometimes disappear. Stars die and we see them fall through the sky. We hurt. We try, and we fail. Sometimes we don’t even try at all. Some of us have Liechtenstein within us; we are exceptional but go unnoticed. Many with greatness in them go unnoticed and unappreciated on a daily basis, but that’s just how it works. Or on the other hand, we may never be like Liechtenstein. We’re complacent, and we tell ourselves that where we are in the moment is perfectly okay, even if it isn’t. We are confronted with the question to be, or not to be? But Liechtenstein or not we have to continue onward because our lives don’t stop regardless, even through the less spectacular moments. We don’t stop as long as our hearts keep beating and the earth keeps spinning. We always have the “now;” it is just up to us how we choose to live it.