This morning, we arose and - as we do every Monday, of course - donned the most patriotic outfits we could, mish-mosh meldings of red, white and blue clothing in various states of cleanliness and headed out the door towards Wallace House. Actually, we're not subject to some sort of weekly patriotism drill. We were there to celebrate KWF's program director - and our guardian angel - Birgit Rieck's swearing in as an American citizen. Following Candy and Stephannie's guidance, we decorated the native German's office with streamers and balloons. Neil Diamond's Coming to America was cued up on the CD player downstairs. American flags were distributed for waving. Champagne was set out, accompanied by gigantic chocolate-covered strawberries decorated with red, white and blue icing. Charles Eisendrath showed up in leather leiderhosen, like an extra from The Sound of Music, although for all I know, he does that every Monday. Stephannie practiced the lyrics to Yankee Doodle, and if anyone can explain "pockily" to us, we'd be happy to hear it.
Then we waited, peering out the window of the dining room like kids expecting Santa Claus until Birgit's car finally pulled into the driveway. Then it was places, everyone! Birgit was indeed surprised and touched and amused - all the right things and it's really nice to be able to do something nice for her, given the amount of crap she does for all of us. (Yes, it's technically her job, but this woman goes above and beyond -- and is a hell of a lot of fun just to be around.)
Speeches followed, as they tend to and after Charles made some lovely remarks about Birgit's dedication to her work and impact on the KWF program, the celebrant took center stage. She gave a very lovely impromptu speech about how meaningful it was to see so many people, many of them elderly, some barely able to speak English fulfill their dreams of becoming American Citizens. It seemed to have renewed (or reinforced) her faith that, for all its faults, this country really is open to those who seek it.
Then, at Charles' urging, she read to us the oath she had taken that morning. It's not exactly light reading:
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 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. In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature.
Becoming a citizen is something I think seriously about all the time. Now that I hold a British passport, I'd technically be a dual citizen - as Birgit is now, enjoying German and US citizenship. The paperwork gets half done, then languishes in a drawer. And while I desperately want to put my money where my mouth is in terms of having the right to vote, there are some lines in there that trip me up every time.
One could argue that they're just words, but they feel like so much more when I consider "absolutely and entirely" renouncing (let alone abjuring, whatever that means) allegiance to Scotland. Should I say those words if I'm not sure I could ever really do that? And when it comes to the part about taking up arms, can I cross my fingers behind my back? It's a lot to think about.
On the other hand, if gigantic chocolate-covered strawberries were on the other end of it, I might consider it quite seriously.
See more photos from Birgit's big surprise HERE.