I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away

1. Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By the most astounding stroke of luck an infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create
you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.
For endless eons there was no you. Before you know it, you will cease to be again. And in between you have this wonderful opportunity to see and feel and think and do. Whatever else you do with your life,nothing will remotely compare with the incredible accomplishment of having managed to get yourself born.
Congratulations. Well done. You really are special.
2. But not that special. There are five billion other people on this planet, every one of them just as important, just as central to the great scheme of things, as you are. Don't ever make the horrible, unworthy mistake of thinking yourself more vital and significant than anyone else. Nearly all the people you encounter in life merit your consideration. Many of them will be there to help you-to deliver your pizza, bag your groceries, clean up the motel room you have made such a lavish mess of. If you are not in the habit of being extremely nice to these people, then get in the habit now.
Millions more people, most of whom you will never meet or even see, won't help you, indeed can't help you, may not even be able to help themselves. They deserve your compassion. We live in a sadly heartless age, when we seem to have less and less space in our consciences and our pocketbooks for the poor and lame and dispossessed, particularly those in far-off lands.

A computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things.

As the economist Herman Daly once put it: “The current national accounting system treats the earth as a business in liquidation.

Christmas tree stands are the work of the devil and they want you dead.

Coming back to your native land after an absence of many years is a surprisingly unsettling business, a little like waking from a long coma. Time, you discover, has wrought changes that leave you feeling mildly foolish and out of touch.

Coming back to your native land after an absence of many years is a surprisingly unsettling business, a little like waking up from a long coma.

Confused and unable to help, my hair went into panic mode.

Don't ever do anything on principle alone. If you haven't got a better reason for doing something other than the principle of the thing, then don't do it.

Don't make the extremely foolish mistake of thinking that winning is everything. If there is one person that I would really like to smack, it is the person who said, "Winning is not the main thing. It's the only thing." That's awful. Taking part is the main thing. Doing your best is the main thing. There is no shame in not winning. The shame is in not trying to win, which is of course another matter altogether. Above all, be gracious in defeat. Believe me, you'll get plenty of chances to put this into practice, so you might as well
start working on it now.

If you initialed one dollar per second, you would make $1,000 every seventeen minutes. After 12 days of nonstop effort you would acquire your first $1 million. Thus, it would take you 120 days to accumulate $10 million and 1,200 days— something over three years—to reach $100 million. After 31.7 years you would become a billionaire, and after almost a thousand years you would be as wealthy as Bill Gates. But not until after 31,709.8 years would you count your trillionth dollar (and even then you would be less than one-fourth of the way through the pile of money representing America’s national debt). That is what $1 trillion is.

I love everything about motels. I can't help myself. I still get excited every time I slip a key into a motel room door and fling it open.

In Anglo-Saxon times, according to Crippen, it was customary for someone offering a drink to say, “Wassail!” and for the recipient to respond “Drinkhail!” and for the participants to repeat the exercise until comfortably horizontal.

In office buildings and retail premises in which entry is through double doors and one of those doors is locked for no reason, the door must bear a large sign saying: “This Door Is Locked for No Reason.

In the United States, frozen cheese pizza is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Frozen pepperoni pizza, on the other hand, is regulated by the Department of Agriculture.

... it occurred to me that never again would he be seven years, one month and six days old, so we had better catch these moments while we can.

It wasn't until we dropped him at his university dormitory and left him there looking touchingly lost and bewildered amid an assortment of cardboard boxes and suitcases in a spartan room not unlike a prison cell that it really hit home that he was vanishing out of our lives and into his own.

It was one of those sumptuous days when the world is full of autumn muskiness and tangy, crisp perfection: vivid blue sky, deep green fields, leaves in a thousand luminous hues. It is a truly astounding sight when every tree in a landscape becomes individual, when each winding back highway and plump hillside is suddenly and infinitely splashed with every sharp shade that nature can bestow - flaming scarlet, lustrous gold, throbbing vermilion, fiery orange.

Most people think they want Main Streets but won't make the small sacrifices in terms of time, cost, and footpower necessary to sustain them. The sad fact is that we have created a culture in which most people will happily-indeed, unthinkingly-drive an extra couple of miles to walk thirty less feet.

Nobody deserves to go to the World Series more than the Chicago Cubs. But they can't go because that would spoil their custom of never going. It is an irreconcilable paradox.

Of all the things I am not very good at, living in the real world is perhaps the most outstanding.

Of all the things I am not very good at, living in the real world is perhaps the most outstanding. I am constantly filled with wonder at the number of things that other people do without any evident difficulty that are pretty much beyond me.

On the dashboard of our family car is a shallow indentation about the size of a paperback book. If you are looking for somewhere to put your sunglasses or spare change, it is the obvious place, and it works extremely well, I must say, so long as the car is not actually moving. However, as soon as you put the car in motion ... everything slides off ... It can hold nothing that has not been nailed to it. So I ask you: what then is it for?

People are so addicted to convenience that they have become trapped in a vicious circle: The more labor-saving appliances they acquire, the harder they need to work; the harder they
work, the more labor-saving appliances they feel they need to acquire.

So here I am, my affections torn between a postal service that never feeds me but can tackle a challenge and one that gives me free tape and prompt service but won't help me out when I can't remember a street name. The lesson to draw from this, of course, is that when you move from one country to another you have to accept that there are some things that are better and some things worse, and there is nothing you can do about it. That may not be the profoundest of insights to take away from a morning's outing, but I did get a free doughnut as well, so on balance I guess I'm happy.

Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By most astounding stroke of luck and infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.

For endless eons there was no you. Before you know it, you will cease to be again. And in between you have this wonderful opportunity to see and feel and think and do. Whatever else you do with your life, nothing will remotely compare with the incredible accomplishment of having managed to get yourself born. Congratulations. Well done. You really are special.

Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By the most astounding stroke of luck an infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.

The hard and unexpected part is the realization not just that my son is not here but that the boy he was is gone forever. I would give anything to have them both back. But of course that cannot be. Life moves on. Kids grow up and move away, and if you don't know this already, believe me, it happens faster than you can imagine.

There are some things in life that just have to be faced up to, whether you want to or not.

You have your whole life ahead of you. But here's the thing to remember. You will always have your whole life ahead of you. That never stops and you shouldn't forget it.