A Toilet Map of States United - by Greer Clem

In a small, poorly functioning bathroom in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, there is a map of the world that faces the toilet. Calling it a bathroom is actually generous; it’s just a tiny elevated room with a toilet, a window, and a large stack of yellowing travel magazines. When sitting on the toilet, your knees inches away from the wall, your gaze falls inevitably on to the map. It’s one of those world maps that was perhaps a souvenir in a travel book, thinly laminated with colors fading from age. All the countries have started molding together, their fading borders allowing each nation’s distinct color to bleed into the next. Every time I went to the bathroom, I would sit on the toilet, staring at the map. I’m not sure I had much of a choice as the wall was about a foot away from my face when sitting down. Nevertheless, I would trace the borders of countries I wanted to see, envisioning myself traversing a world that seemed so reasonably sized in that tiny bathroom.

Invariably, my eyes would always find their way back to the United States, the country I call home. Etched in cursive across my homeland’s surface were the French words “Etats Unis,” directly translated to mean “States United.”  Today, I can’t help but remember that map and remember thinking what an infinitely better name for our country. I always loved the French language because I felt it beautified ordinary words. Things like “peanut” in English are “cacahuete” in French. What a gloriously, unnecessarily dramatic word for a tiny nut. And much like the unassuming peanut who was rewarded with such a grandiose name, I felt that once again the French had gotten it right. Wasn’t “States United” the better, grander name for our home? “States United,” as though the states themselves were tiny people, standing together hand-in-hand in the face of some evil force. Wasn’t that infinitely more powerful than “United States,” a name describing nothing more than individual pieces of land, unwillingly tied together by a larger border?

“States United” has the ring of choice to it, as though the name itself reflects a conscientious decision to be one, unified whole day after day- like a marriage. As though every day we stood together and said to one another “I choose to stand here with you.” I felt that way at the Women’s March, as though I was making a choice as a citizen to be a member of the society I was born into. I feel that way whenever I call my senator or representative and make my views heard. Isn’t that the way it was meant to be? We were born here but we make choices every day about our citizenship. Dreamers were brought here because their parents made a choice to give them better opportunities. Shouldn’t we stand with them, as equals, and fight for their right to have the opportunities their parents envisioned for them? Shouldn’t we stand with our children and fight, united as one voice, to keep them safe in schools? We need to be states united, separated by our borders but united by our common goals. At times, I feel I am losing my faith in the United States. But my faith is renewed by the idea of our states united. Separated by borders, we may feel as though we have little in common with the rest of our country, but we commit ourselves each day to be active citizens, to be one nation with liberty and justice for all.

Greer Clem