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Citizenship: a story of belonging

I pledge allegiance to the Flag and to the United States of America.

Countless mornings I recited these words in various schools across America. We stood, placed our hands on our hearts and recited the words in unison. No matter where we lived, coast to coast, The Pledge was part of my schooling, a daily ritual of community and association.

Ritual and the Stories we Tell

As a child, I looked forward to every National Holiday, not just the ones that came with a day off from school, but especially those that included special celebrations and community events used to retell the stories of our Nation’s founding and commemorate the lives of the hero’s that built it.  My strongest childhood memory of celebrating citizenship was in 1976, the 2ooth birthday of our Nation. This month (October) includes another of these National holidays: Columbus Day.

There’s a bitter taste in my mouth, and the alternative “Indigenous Peoples Day” doesn’t do enough to heal the wounds of this narrative.

My son, a sophomore in high school, hears the Pledge recited over the school’s intercom system. Some students join in recitation, some stand. Others don’t. He has an option I did not. Whether his option of choice is simply a reflection of the changing times, an account of his gender or some other unknown factor, I cannot say. In his own words he says, “I think America is cool and all, I just don’t like all the words in the Pledge.”

“I just don’t like all the words.”

The truth is, I would willingly stand and recite the Pledge today. I love ritual. I enjoy just about any kind of communal experience and I’ve always felt a strong sense of allegiance to this Nation. AND I agree with my son. It’s hard to rectify all the words and pledge allegiance to the narrative contained within the Pledge and our Nation. It’s hard to make peace with the story and the heroes who wrote the story of HOW this Nation was built.

In search of Belonging

I’ve always thought about Citizenship as belonging to something bigger than myself. Citizenship to me was two-fold: allegiance to a community and/or a nation from which one could enjoy the protection and privileges that come as a result of belonging. As a new kid moving to numerous new towns and new schools across the nation while growing up, I desperately wanted to belong. My early years were about finding ways to be included, to “fit” in hopes of really belonging. In fact, we moved so often I got really good at reinventing myself with each new community and portraying myself in ways that I thought would guarantee my inclusion. I wanted to feel included. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to belong.

I was a rule-follower. I was a people-pleaser. I was intent on being a good person. These were my strategies for belonging. Mostly they were effective at keeping me out of trouble. In my perspective, to be in trouble was synonymous with exclusion. I did not want to be in trouble.

In some ways my imagination was always greater than reality. I convinced myself that I belonged because we stood together in the same room and recited the same Pledge.

Defining Citizenship

Most of my life has been looking for this sense of belonging and like most questions in my life, the inquiry begins with expanding my knowledge. 😊 Here’s what I found via Google:

  • Citizenship is a relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection.
  • Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities.
  • Each state determines the conditions under which it will recognize persons as its citizens, and the conditions under which that status will be withdrawn.
  • Recognition by a state as a citizen generally carries with it recognition of civil, political, and social rights which are not afforded to non-citizens.

I’ve been fortunate, privileged to enjoy the rights of US Citizenship to work and travel the world. I was educated to “respectfully” challenge the system and work for change from within. I was taught that my personal moral obligation laid the foundation for that of our nation and by way of my vote, our elected leaders.

Citizenship in Action

I marched for equal rights for Women, human rights for Blacks, access rights for the poor. I raised money, collected food and served. I sat-in protest for expanding the discrimination clause to protect those of same-sex relationships. I voted out who I thought was the problem. I voted in who I thought represented real change. And yet, 911 happened, a 20-year war resulted. Violence, riots and protests demanding human rights for our own citizens became a daily event.

Corruption, greed and denial of responsibility are embedded in the walls of our institutions like black mold. Suffering is real. Compassion for the suffering seems pale in comparison to our depth of need. The path to healing is long and arduous, and I can only see a few steps in front of where I stand. I cannot see the way out. And as I see it, the only way in lies in cultivating authentic relationship.

I am often comforted by the words of Martin Luther King, “the arc of history bends toward justice.” On good days, I fear that the arc is too gradual. On hard days, I’m convinced the arc is about to break and the world is about to crash into chaos.

What’s Next?

I am vividly aware that our communal, National INTENTION cannot be articulated into a concise plan. I am painfully aware that our system is broken. The people are tired. This Nation is not as I was taught and certainly not reflective of my hopes.

What have I learned (or at least come to realize)?

  • Our Nation has intentionally perpetuated an untruth.
  • We need real shift, systemic change and reconstruction.
  • Real change is dependent on accepting responsibility.
  • Healing can only happen through collaboration and communal action.
  • The needed shift is bigger than me.

I lead three community Circles, Yoga Living, Women’s Circle and Guru Circle. I’ve hosted these programs for over a decade in some fashion or another. They offer an opportunity for community connection and personal growth by providing safe space and guiding intimacy and inquiry within a context of compassion and truth. Circle is about learning to live together by practicing the principles of Yoga and discovering our authentic humanity.  I love hosting and participating in Circle, it’s the salve for my broken heart and my contribution to building the world I want to live in.

Here are some ideas about the world I want to live in and the Nation I want to Pledge my allegiance to:

  1. Membership as Citizen is an inherent right based on the primary function of being alive, being human.
  2. Inclusion requires equal parts voluntary and responsibility, absent of obligation or guilt.
  3. Citizenship is participatory membership. Participation is not ONE way, it looks different for different people according to their capacity and skills. Everyone has a value to contribute.
  4. Membership should help members succeed.

I’d love to hear your ideas.

Build the Circle

When we show up and breathe, we can begin the work. The work requires Action and is equal parts doing and non-doing, un-doing and re-doing. Truth is, some of us are more ready than others. That’s okay. The communal Circle defines the space and holds the intention of compassion and connection. We show up when we are ready. How do we get ready? We practice.

The work ahead is a practice. I call it Yoga but to me it’s all yoga. Call it what you like. What lies ahead is a journey of breathing, moving and resting; an unfolding and a re-building of identity and community in an ever-expanding Circle of Circles. What we need is permission to begin again and believe that our past does not have to be the predictor of our future. The challenge for each of us is to not wait for permission to be granted, but to give it to ourselves.

  • Permission to ask questions
  • Permission to try something new (and not be good at it!)
  • Permission to share our stories (and NOT have to share our stories).
  • Permission to huddle into Circles and to extend our arms in welcome support.
  • Permission to live and laugh and love.

 

My pledge…

I pledge allegiance to this Circle, this gathering of imperfect humans committed to the work of becoming and the acceptance of responsibility for the harms that have been done. I pledge allegiance to the people engaged in authenticity and committed to the process of connection and community building. I pledge allegiance to the Human race and the planet Earth as our home.

 

What’s your Citizenship story? To what do you pledge allegiance and what are you working to build?