Today I voted. Unlike so many others, today was my first day of voting. Today I took my place in line at the elementary school along side friends and neighbors. It has taken me nearly half a lifetime to exercise that freedom.
I arrived in Utah as a 2 year-old baby some 36 years ago. My parents with six small children left their homeland of Canada.My father took out his citizenship shortly after he arrived; my mother still has not. My older brothers and one sister became citizens 25 years ago. I vividly recall their stories of how difficult the test was to pass and how much preparation went into that process.
Passing the test seemed impossible for me. My time got lost somewhere in the years of school and marriage and children, and I did not take the time to try to obtain what seemed like such a selfish goal. I consoled myself with the fact that being a foreigner had never caused me any inconveniences or problems. I just could not vote or work for the government. I felt no need to study any politics or listen to political views because I could not have one. I simply excused it as a lack of time. Who cares if I vote anyway? I just put it off as one of those things I'd get around to someday.
A couple of years ago some changes started to take place. I went to a high school concert at Symphony Hall where my eldest son and his classmates were participating in a concert. They were typical All-American kids. They sang beautifully and I was amazed. You see, my home is often full of teenagers, and their music at times does not bring harmony to my ears. They are usually clad in jeans, gym shoes (without the laces tied), and T-shirts. That night they looked so handsome all spiffed-up in their Sunday shirts, ties and jackets. I even noticed a few new haircuts. As I watched them sing, my heart was full of pride for knowing such fine people - our children - America's finest, the next generation, our future leaders.
Their closing song was a combined chorus of a popular song by Lee Greenwood, "God Bless the U.S.A." My soul nearly burst as I heard them sing such profound words. My mind hurried back over time to my own high school days when some of my classmates got those same clean hair cuts, military cuts. They were going to war. They were not old enough to vote and yet old enough to be drafted and sent off to war. Some never returned.
That night as I heard those fine young men sing, "I'm proud to be an American," I realized that I could not say that out loud. I was an American by heart, but I had to follow a process of paper work to obtain the title. For me it had not been a birthright. During that song, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I vowed to myself that I would become a citizen, no matter what.
The process began more earnestly then. Documents had to be located, paper work started, application applied for, photographs and fingerprints taken. Time passed. Many changes took place. I seemed to be starting over in every part of my life. After 18 years of marriage, a divorce can be devastating and responsibilities overwhelming. I reevaluated my goals and citizenship took its proper priority. The goal seemed more important and not so selfish now. I finally got a notice that I could take the test for citizenship in February. Study time for the test had to be shared with family, friends, work and basketball games my sons were in. The day came for the test, and I had to take time off work. I had said very little to my co-workers, for I felt they could not understand my inner feelings.
It was an oral examination. As I waited with all my documents firmly in hand I had time to think about my homeland. Questions flashed through my mind about loyalty, birthright, patriotism. Most of the others in the room had darker skin, darker hair, and some talked in foreign languages. The two fellows that looked like "Americans" were an interpreter and a lawyer. I remembered the puzzled look on the lady's face when I had asked for the citizenship application. Her question was, "Are you sure you aren't a citizen? You look like one." Well, today my goal was to really be one.
Nervously, I went in for the test. The examiner was systematic, concise . . . cold. I was timid, sweating and terrified. The examiner sensed my fears and asked me what was wrong. I told him. That did not help! He seemed determined for me to face my worst fears. The questions did not quit. He asked such difficult detailed questions. I missed a couple of dates.
More questions came, ones that had not been included in my studying, ones I could not answer. Finally he said, "You are not ready to become a citizen; you don't know what it is all about. Go home and study." Humiliated, disappointed, I gave him a long hard look before I said softly, "You aren't done with me yet. I'll be back." I wanted to say so much more about what I knew about being an American, but I was sure the tears would fall soon and he was not the kind of man who would listen to what I really had to say, for it would come from my heart. I turned quickly and walked to my car. I shut the door and the hot tears fell.
I drove around for a few minutes then drove up to the state Capitol and got out and walked and thought. When I regained my composure, I went back to work. There I faced the humiliation of having to decline the congratulations and say I didn't pass the test. That evening in the quiet security of my own home, I wrote another letter requesting another time to take the test again. This time I knew more answers than they knew questions. I passed the test. I passed! I passed! I waited for the appointed day for the final process.
The joyful feelings inside are hard to describe. I thought of this beautiful country, freedom, purple mountain majesty and amber waves of grain, our flag, our songs, our heroes, Americans - us.
So today as I stepped inside that booth, my palms were sweaty, my heart pounding fast. I took the instruction sample booklet to read because at near 40 I had been a little too humiliated to ask for detailed instructions. I was so scared I couldn't read. Fortunately a class full of little children stood in the hall by the booths, and a teacher was explaining the whole process to them. From inside the booth I followed her detailed instructions as to what goes on in there. Step by step I followed. Still overcome by fright, I could no longer hear her; I closed my eyes and asked for my Heavenly Father's help. I asked for His help in guiding this nation, that I might choose those people who would lead our nation in righteousness.
I pictured a land of glorious freedom and Camelot's "might for right and right for might," a land of honesty and integrity. I may be a bit naive, but I still pictured it even after I voted for I still feel it is possible. I walked out of the booth proud and happy, hopeful and full of courage. I said out loud, "I did it. I voted!" The people there giggled at my enthusiasm. They had been somewhat nervous at the amount of time I had spent in the booth. They offered me some peanuts or candy as I left. I answered back, "Oh, no thanks, voting was enough."
I walked home, proud, straight, taller, a real American. I called a friend and shared my accomplishment. From inside my country kitchen it was with quiet reverence I saluted my flag. With a tear-stained face I placed my hand over my red, white, and blue heart and gratefully whispered the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, saluting Old Glory for all she represents: liberty, freedom, land of the free, home of the brave. Yes, today I voted. God bless the U.S.A.
I knew I had taken a major step in teaching another generation. Tonight around the dinner table I can explain how you go about voting - how it feels to be a real American.