I become an American citizen today.
I wake up with strange feelings. How will this change me?
I go to the gym at 5:00 a.m.; normal day. The usual people around me: are they citizens, I wonder? Do they know that I am not? Does it matter? Will they see me differently tomorrow? They already are “my morning people,” and our community or early-risers and gym-goers is already formed.
It strikes me that I’ve never felt odd because I was not a citizen here. I was just that, a free human being, most often embraced by others, and embraced as the person I was, beyond any citizenship. A free human because the source of genuine freedom is not a government, but Love, divine Love, most often experienced through the others. What more can I get in a few hours when I become a citizen?
My wife has to stop by work before the oath ceremony, so she has already left. There are so many things I need to finish today: papers to grade, an essay to write… I may become a citizen today, but I have worked and lived as a full member of this community for years. Will this ceremony change anything?
Over 650 people become citizens today in my city. Very difficult parking, and I’m not particularly known for my patience. After a 40 minutes journey that would normally take me 20 minutes, I am in the middle of them… Have you seen people crying when they become citizens?
Over 650 people…
What connects me with them?
I sit next to my wife and some friends, and we speak Romanian. The people in front of us speak Spanish. Behind us, German and Arabic. To our right, French. My fellow immigrants. All of us, the soon-to-become citizens, are in the rows in the middle of the arena; in the stands, families and friends. Their joy is overwhelming. And my phone starts beeping: colleagues from work, students, friends… All of them rejoicing in my becoming an American. Their embrace melts me. And I remember Markus, Fr. Zosima’s brother, from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: What have I done to deserve such love? Why would you love me? I’m just a man born in a small town in Transylvania, who used to love playing soccer on the streets and who once ordered a “pig sandwich” because he did not know the word “ham.”
Who am I?
I am a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, the same I was yesterday and the same I will be tomorrow. But I am also someone who is considered a fellow by all of these people around me. I am overwhelmed by their love, and I love them back.
I rise to take the oath.
“I hereby declare, on oath…”
I became an American citizen today.
It is not freedom that I gained, but responsibility. May I wear it with humility.