Thanksgiving and becoming an American

Thanksgiving Thinking about Thanksgiving usually brings out the patriotic in me.  And during this season of reflection and thinking about our nation,  I recalled an experience of mine from 2011.

In the fall of that year I took the oath to become a US citizen. For 35 years I’ve waited to become an American and finally (moved to participate in the upcoming election) I enlisted the help of my spouse and a wonderful friend of ours to get the paperwork done and schedule my interview and oath-taking ceremony.

Once I'd completed the first steps I was granted citizenship.  The big day arrived and I found myself in a government hall on a Tuesday morning in November with 107 other people from literally all over the globe who also took the solemn oath. When the time came to swear allegiance to the flag I got too choked up to finish and stood there moved by the moment and the gravity of the words being spoken around me. I've said the pledge before, but always as an outsider, always as a theoretical American, enjoying our country's offering but not being a "part" of it or being expected to fight for it.

But there I was, reciting a pledge I'd learned as a first grader but now with a completely different level of intention and meaning behind it.  I could feel the weight of it suddenly.  The sacrifice of so many men and women, much braver, patriotic and honorable than me that have died so that I could stand there and become a citizen. I’ve always known it but at that moment I was humbled by the thought of it and felt for the first time that surrendering this part of my identity – my Canadianism – was no longer abandoning a part of my heritage but rather an acknowledging of my patriotism and loyalty to this country. And what struck me as I stood there was the immense power of choosing to be an American - of choosing to be a part of this nation.

Being given the opportunity to ask to be a citizen, to actually have to say the words and ask to be a citizen is quite a powerful experience I think everyone should have. Everyone that lives here should be asked, "are you in, will you fight for this country, do you believe in the cause?"  It stops you.  I’ve taken it for granted for so long but I never really acknowledged that having the choice to chose is a privilege many dream their whole lives to be granted.

So I made the choice and stood up among members of no less than fifty other countries and swore an allegiance to the flag. When we finished, the man sitting next to me said, to himself more than anyone, “God bless America”. He stood up when they called his country - India, so I knew he’d traveled a long way to get here. He had a thick accent and was very shabbily dressed. “God bless America” he said, and I said it too.