US Citizenship: Head Versus Heart

British Head and Heart are watching the evening news – never a good idea, no matter which side of the Atlantic anyone resides. Tonight, Head’s had enough.

“Right,” says Head. “Heart, we must get US citizenship. We don’t have the right to complain about politics if we haven’t taken the steps necessary to participate in the process.”

“But … But,” says Heart, “we vowed to remain British and only British. You said you’d rather take a beating than have it any other way. Besides, we’re going back to England permanently one day.”

“Well, Heart,” says Head, “we don’t know when that day will come. And you’re taking a beating with all this anti-immigrant nonsense anyway so what’s one more bashing? Get citizenship, participate in the next election and let’s see if you feel better.” Head pats itself on the … head.

Heart sits in a corner, grizzling. “But I don’t want to get US citizenship!”

“Take heart, Heart,” says Head. “There’s an advantage beyond voting. As green card holders, we can only leave the US for six months at a time. With one of our kids now living in England and one in the US, dual citizenship allows us to be with each for as long as we please. Yay!” Head nudges Heart out of the corner and hands it a tissue.

Now for the hard bit, Head thinks. Getting Heart to fill in the paperwork. Copious amounts of paperwork, including every flight taken since the invention of the aeroplane, tax records the likes of which no US president must show, and family tree dating back to 1066 – only anno domini, thank goodness.

Heart bleeds all over the forms. “I. Don’t. Wanna!”

“Stop it, Heart. This is exactly why I’m above you.”

“Oh yeah? This is exactly why I control your blood supply.”

“Shut up! Fill in the damn paperwork.”

Head and Heart get in the car, off to the biometrics appointment, fighting about who should sit in the passenger seat and whether they should stop at the rest area to hit the vending machine for a chocolate bar. At the United States Customs and Immigration Enforcement office, the staff take finger prints. And photos.

Heart fights for a retake. “We can’t stick that face on a document that will haunt us the rest of our lives!”

Head replies,’ “If you’d just cheer up, the photos wouldn’t look like they’d been taken by a mortician, would they now.” Heart picks up the pen and check boxes as to eye and hair colour – after a spirited discussion about the ethics of not mentioning natural hair colour. The car ride home is … frosty.

Waiting for the citizenship interview is tough on Head. “We need this done quickly and efficiently.”

Heart disagrees. ‘No hurry. Happy as I am, thanks.”

Regardless, the official letter arrives. Citizenship interview date set for March 20th, 2019. “Plenty of time to learn the answers to all 100 historical, geographical, and political questions for the citizenship test,” says Head.

“What test?” says Heart, before entering cardiac arrest territory on viewing the enormous book of questions that came with the letter.

Studying isn’t made any easier by the fact not a single US citizen known to Head and Heart can answer any question on the test except “What colour is the White House?” and “When is the Fourth of July?”

“Pathetic,” says Head.

“I’m not alone!” says Heart.

Back in the car on March 20th – no stop at the vending machine because both Head and Heart are somewhat nauseous – the mood is sombre. Authors of Federalist Papers, names of longest rivers in the US, dates of the Constitution Convention swirl in Head’s head. Heart’s too busy practicing saying “Yes” when asked if it’s taking US citizenship sound of mind and free of coercion.

“Well, she was nice, wasn’t she?” says Heart on the way out of the interview.

“Easy for you to say,” says Head. “You didn’t answer a single question, except the last one.”

Heart frolics to the car, thrilled it said “Yes” in the right place. “Are we done now? Can we vote and travel?”

“No. Got to take the oath.”

“What oath?”

This one: ‘I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.’

“Holy heart attack, Head! Can I cross my arteries while I say it?”

“No. But luckily the United Kingdom decrees you don’t really mean to renounce UK citizenship when you take the oath. We can still celebrate the Queen’s birthday as dual US/UK citizens.”

Heart’s heart sings. “Excellent. So we’re lying under oath but it’s government sanctioned.”

“Shut up.” Head’s got a headache.

Another month’s wait and it’s off to the oath ceremony at the Federal Courthouse, bypassing the vending machine because family’s taking Head and Heart to lunch afterwards. If Heart behaves.

Heart bounces through security and gasps at the beauty of the ceremonial courtroom. “Look at all these hearts! So many emotions wrapped in colourful packages from all over the world! How pretty!”

“Yep. Heads full of all kinds of rationales from thirty-five nations. Now, shhh. Listen to the judge. Oh, she’s good. Welcoming, kind, articulate, respectful of all homelands – and an immigrant herself!”

Heart leaps up and yells, “She just said United Kingdom! That’s us! WOO HOO!”

Head reads the oath. Heart aches, all hireth-y, but remains respectful. The flames of Notre Dame rain sad ash over mono-citizenship ties to Europe, but Head and Heart smile.

The judge says, “Welcome, new citizens of the United States of America!”

Head and Heart hug. “I’m not crying. You’re crying,” says Head.

“I cry all the time,” says Heart. “It’s often my job. But, Head, I’m glad you made me come today. It was the right thing to do.”

“I know,” says Head. “But that didn’t make it easy.”

“Let’s get lunch with the family,” says Heart. “I’m having a high-cholesterol dessert.”

“Me too,” says Head. “But before we leave the courthouse, let’s register to vote.”

Tilting At Towers

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I’ve wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa since childhood. Its scary, yet giggle-inducing, tilt just seemed like something I should witness before its inevitable collapse ‒ not so inevitable, as it turns out. Much more inevitable was getting trampled by the crowds. And being bonked on the head by a selfie stick. Or poked in the eye as hundreds of tourists threw their hands out in a hilarious (sigh) attempt to capture the moment they held the tower up. Or knocked it down. Or got squashed under it. Seriously, the overwhelming memory of my recent visit to Pisa will be of an off-kilter tower surrounded by floating hands.

Yet, steps away from the errant tower, sights existed of which I was previously completely unaware. Miraculous sights, hence the name: ‘The Field of Miracles’. This ‘field’ contained structures of such stunning architecture, I was struck dumb. Those who know me realise this is a big deal. I’m never speechless. But the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Monumental Cemetery, even the ancient entry gate and the surrounding walls, were all breath-takingly beautiful. And … no one trying to hold them up!

(Full disclaimer: these other buildings are not perfectly straight either due to the uneven ground in the area. But compared to the tower, the lean’s not nearly so obvious. But I digress …)

How had I gone through life unaware of these other spectacular structures? I must have seen at least part of them in photos of the tower, right? Apparently not. Which begs the question: why had I ‒ and the rest of the world seemingly, based on crowd patterns ‒ focused all attention on the glaring ‘mistake’? The structure most likely to fail?

As I beat off another selfie stick assault to move away from the tower towards the Duomo, I wondered: was this unhealthy preoccupation with failure whilst filtering out success a metaphor for my life? The answer may be, yes. I can write 100,000 words and wake in a sweat over one typo. I can remember a mistaken action from decades ago yet struggle to recall the good deed of yesterday. I can still cringe at the heartless comment I made in high school and forget the kind word shared today. I know I’m not alone in that. We seem to hold onto failure more tightly than success.

Maybe the roiling crowds around the Leaning Tower of Pisa are a tilted reminder: success is not synonymous with perfection or lack of error. Fail. Get up. Try again. And sometimes let your imperfection show. It may be your imperfection that leads to your greatest success. Just ask Mr. Pisano, credited with designing the tower.

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The Birthday Present

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Birthdays are funny little things. We look forward to them yet dread them, celebrate them yet lament them, plan them yet attempt to ignore the fact they’re happening at all. That single twenty-four-hour period makes us crazy, doesn’t it?

This year, I’m attempting to make my upcoming birthday more like New Year’s Day: an opportunity to clarify, reassess, make course corrections ‒ only with cake and an earlier bedtime. This year I’m asking for two gifts. Firstly, a wheelbarrow, owing to a perpetually flat tire and a rusty, crooked frame on my current twenty-five-year-old model. Secondly, I’m asking for the ability to live in the here and now. You see, I’m horrible at it. Not gardening – I have a green thumb that practically glows in the dark. I mean, I’m horrible at living in the present. If you’ve followed my trials and tribulations with hireth and making plans to return to England, you’ll know this already. I spend way too much time wishing I were somewhere else. And that has to stop.

Or does it? Is the drive to be somewhere else at the centre of all human progress? If we were completely happy where we were, we’d never have left the ocean floor, or climbed down from the trees, or left the African continent or the tiny village of Flamstead where I grew up. Following that logic, predisposition to NOT live in the here and now, to NOT accept the status quo, could actually be the cure rather than the ailment. Now I’m really confused. Is my hireth an ailment or the cure for an ailment? Should I live in the present or not? Constantly think about going home or not?

Well, that puts a spanner in my birthday plan works. Maybe I should just settle for the wheelbarrow and call it good.

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