Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ripples in the Flag

My husband became a citizen of Canada today. We went into the city last night and stayed with friends, then we got up early this morning to make it downtown in time for him to take the written test. He passed no problem, having spent the time to study the book that came to him after he applied for citizenship. This afternoon, we attended the oath-taking ceremony.

Since I was born in Canada, I'd never attended something like this before, at least, not in my memory. Most people born into democratic countries tend to view these sorts of events with a large degree of cynicism, the final hoop that these people have to jump before they get the privilege of getting a passport, the right to vote, and the right to continue paying taxes. I have to admit, my cynicism was right there, right under the surface.

At least, it was until I went into the auditorium with the other guests to the ceremony.

I looked around the room, lit mostly by the light streaming through the large windows, the focal point a large desk where the judge officiating the ceremony would sit, framed by two flags. Large screens played a video of Canadian landscapes, splashed with images of the many different faces of Canada. I recognized sights from Winnipeg, from the Rockies, lots of lakes and rivers and trees, flat prairies, ocean shores... music based on the national anthem played in the background. And then, I looked at the people.

112 people and their friends and family sat waiting, waving the little Canadian flags that they picked up after their papers were processed before entering the room. I saw little children dressed in their best, young men and women, elderly people... They all had different faces, but they all wore the same smile. I could feel myself getting a little emotional, sitting in the midst of all this happiness.

The clerk came in and explained how the ceremony would work, then we all stood while the judge entered the room, a woman of middle age with glasses and friendly eyes. She bade us to sit, and then addressed the group, partially in French, but mostly in English.

I realized, as she spoke, how my parents sat in the same ceremony at a time when I would have been much too young to remember. I vaguely remembered the photos of them sitting in the room where they took their oath, my brother in a little suit, me, a toddler, wearing a dress. And I realized how much I'd been given and how lucky I am to be where I am. The judge began:
"A country's strength is not measured by its economy, or by its landscapes. It is measured by its people.

We know that many of you have had a hard road to this day. Some of you have escaped places of war, of violence, and you came here because you wanted safety, and opportunity, and to be a in place where you are free to practice your religions, to be entitled to our healthcare, and to make your life better.

All of you felt the wrench of leaving your friends and family, coming to a place where things are done differently, said differently. But you have accomplished learning one of our official languages, found a home, and have started to make a life for yourself here."
The clerk instructed those taking the oath to stand. I looked around and saw 112 people stand up and raise their right hands. Some held a book from their own faiths in their left hands. The judge stood, and said, "I invite any of you guests to stand and join us in this oath. Some of you might not have ever done it before."

Many more people stood. I looked around, and then stood as well, and raised my right hand. Soon, the whole room was standing.

We took the oath in French first, repeating each phrase after the judge. "Congratulations!" she said. "Now, you have all spoken French!" Many chuckled and grinned. Then, we did it again, this time in English. After that, everyone applauded, and she said a few more remarks, then the clerk began read out the names of all who had taken the oath, and people stood up, either alone or with their families, and came to the front to receive their certificates. The judge shook each person's hand, congratulated them, and said a few private words to each and every one. A little girl stood next to her with a basket of maple leaf pins. It took a while, but soon, all 112 people had their certificates, their cards, and a pin.

And a big, big, smile.

"I never get tired of this," the judge said. "People can look so serious while they wait their turn to get up here, and as soon as I shake their hand, I always see the biggest smile." We clapped. "Canadians clap to keep warm you know, " she joked.

She read the list of all the countries of origin that the 112 people came from. "Feel free to clap or cheer when you hear yours." The biggest cheer came from the Philippines. I grinned. "I sort of thought that would happen," she said. A lone man cheered ecstatically when Tanzania was named. We all turned and smiled happily at him.

While this happened, I realized more than ever, that while all these people were now Canadians, they were still strongly a part of their own countries of origin.

And they were free to be so.

"It's interesting," said the judge. "We can not all have the same past. But, we can all have the same future," she said. "Today, think about what this place will be like in six generations. It has been that many generations since my own family came here. We are all part of that future."

The ceremony closed, and people milled around, taking photos, chatting, all smiling.

I really did not expect to get so much out of this afternoon. I thought we'd do the oath, we'd pack up, and then head back home, but I was surprised by the happiness I felt, and the patriotism that welled inside of me.

I think that those of us who live in countries where we can sleep without the fear of bombs falling on us, and can wake up knowing that we have the power to make our own lives what we want, forget that we have so many rights and privileges. I think we also forget that we have a responsibility to focus not on the parts of our countries that don't work, the hiccups, the red tape that might seem unending, but to focus on the fact that we have the right to make it change. We should find the energy in ourselves to take this gift that we have been given and make the future what we want. Like ripples in a flag, our energy should start from the solid flagpole that is the freedom and safety that we have been given, and then should move outward into the atmosphere.

We can't just sit around complaining all the time: we have a responsibility to use what we have for our own good. It is easy to become complacent, to expect things to be a certain way because it has always been so, and to expect things to come easily because it always has been so. We are living as a generation that feels entitled.

The vast majority of the Earth's population will never know such ease.

And it's important to do our part to make the best of it, through our voices, our work, our art, our songs, our inventions, and most of all, through our words. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Think what would happen if all our words were constructive, positive, and powerful.

112 people are thinking that right now. We should join them.


Patrick Smyth said...

Great commentary. Having being born Canadian and having lived abroad in various countries, coming home to Canada after ten years reminded me how lucky I am.

ronnie said...

As someone who has attended many ceremonies I agree. I am always moved, often to tears. Every Canadian should attend a citizenship ceremony at least once. Lovely post, thanks for sharing. And congratulations to your husband!

YarnKettle said...

Wow, your writing is so beautiful. I got a bit teary when you mentioned the man from Tanzania, I hope he remains proud of both his countries. I fell a little in love with the judge. I hope she always enjoys her job as mush as she did that day.

AdrieneJ said...

@Patrick: I felt the same way when I first left home to live abroad. There's nowhere quite like home!

@ronnie: Yes, I had the very same idea yesterday. It's worth it for everyone to attend a citizenship ceremony in their respective countries. It is such an inspiring event.

@YarnKettle: I think that her job is such a rewarding one. I hope that it truly is as rewarding as I think.

Joanne said...

This was a beautiful post! As someone who is "between" countries in some ways at the moment, I found this very moving and important. How wonderful to see so many lucky and hardworking people who are able to get citizenship here. Thank you so much for posting it!

JAMES said...