The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

American Pie, Please!

on September 15, 2013

Something strange happened to me this past weekend while sitting on a humongous rock that sticks out of the ground. It was completely unexpected and it took me some time to make sense of it. Once or twice each year, our family makes the, almost obligatory, visit to Stone Mountain Park to see the laser show. I’ve been going to see the laser show since my college years and if you live in the Atlanta area, it’s something you consider doing at some point in the year – most likely when you have guests from out of town. The show is entertaining and definitely patriotic. Lots of music from Georgia locals and several well-known oldies that could warm up any old American heart and fill it with pride. I was surprised to notice this year that a request flashed the mountain to “Please Rise” before the Star Spangled Banner” (the U.S. American national anthem). I stood up out of respect but more so because my U.S. American kids and husband were right there with me. It was the right thing to do.

But the strange thing that happened to me didn’t even happen during the Star Spangled Banner. It happened a bit later when images of…wait for it…military families lasered across the mountain, It was then that I felt a twinge of affinity for the United States. (This may be partially related to my recent short-lived addiction to Army Wives). Okay, okay, it was more than a twinge, it was a wave. Maybe even a tidal wave. There was no mistaking that feeling of affinity, of belonging, pride, loyalty, dare-I-say patriotism for the U.S!!!!!! And that’s what surprised the heck out of me!!! Let me explain before you start wondering what feelings I may have had prior to this one.

You see, I’ve lived in this country for a long, long time and I am not a citizen. Please put down your cell phone and stop Googling the U.S. immigration police. My status is perfectly legal and always has been. Well except for that unfortunate Tijuana experience, but that’s for another post. I’ve lived here far, far longer than I have in any other country but I’m not a citizen. It’s somewhat embarrassing at times, such as when our family returned from India and lined up to go through immigration and my 7 year-old kept asking repeatedly and loudly, “DADDY WHY IS MOMMY COMING WITH US IN THIS LINE? SHE’S NOT AMERICAN. SHOULDN’T SHE GO IN THE OTHER LINE?” How quickly he had forgotten the alien womb he started out in….

I like living here. I do. But I have never quite felt comfortable actually belonging to any one place or group or country or whatever. It’s a bit of a commitment issue. I’ve always had this story I’ve told myself that I belong to the world and the world belongs to me. I refuse to be limited by the boundaries we create for ourselves. So I have never felt particularly compelled or rushed to apply for U.S. citizenship ASAP. On top of all that, my work revolves around critiquing the United States from a variety of angles – sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism. I spend time handing out magnifying glasses and microscopes to my students so they can see all the realities about the U.S. that tend to get swept under the rug or stirred up with sugar and handed back to you in a glass of sweet, Southern tea. The courses I teach are dedicated to developing a critical consciousness of the isms and privilege and educational inequities and ignominious history of this country. Inevitably, there comes a point in each semester, when I have to clarify to my students that I do not, indeed, hate America. There’s always the one student that wonders and voices the question or rather – suspicion. After all, I’m NOT American. I mean, it’s the same thing as, “I can talk about my family, but you can’t if you’re not a part of it!” I can see how one might wonder that. After all, when you are picking apart and looking directly at the least endearing parts of anyone or anything, how could you possibly feel anything else? Here’s a quote I share to help them make sense of it all:

And that’s precisely why I felt that, ahem, patriotic feeling while sitting on that rock with the coolness of a late evening breeze on my face watched the lasered images of American people who willingly sacrifice and speak up and fight and demand and come together because they believe in something. I realized it was because I had looked at the ugliest parts of this country and knew about them that I felt that feeling. Because I am ultra conscious of them, I could feel an eyes-wide-open kind of love for this country. Despite that ugliness that exists here, what also exists here is an endless, incredible cup-runneth-over generosity of spirit and kindness and compassion and the unshakable desire and tenacity in the belief that there is good and goodness can win.  Just in the last few days, I’ve seen example after example of this. The Monkee See Monkee Do people raised $100 000 in 6 hours for four sweet babies with special needs to have their needs met. And no one was allowed to donate over $25.  The See Beautiful people had all their money stolen out of their bank account which did nothing but make visible an incredible outpouring of beautiful from the president as well as all the followers of the See Beautiful movement. My husband, one U.S. American, began a movement to make small changes For 28 Days at a time and people everywhere have jumped on board because they believe they can do better. Be better. I could go on with example, after example, after example.

And that’s what it all about for me. The wish to not belong has really only been about avoiding the limitations. Lately, I’ve been coming to the realization that belonging might be more about saying what you’re for rather than what you’re against. Taylor Mali, one of my favorites, says it perfectly in  Silver-Lined Heart. Belonging is about saying what you’re for. I’m starting to notice what I’m for these days. For the first time in my life I feel like I’m for the place I go to on Sunday mornings. I’m for the way we think about life and creation and spirit and love in that space. Sitting around the table with my family makes me feel like I’m for this family. I want us to live out our dot on the Grand Timeline together the best we can. Being in my classes with my students makes me feel like I am for these young people who are considering teaching as a career or already in the thick of it. I want them to go into their classrooms with an armed love for their students.

I like this. I can sense a slew of jokes and entertainment at my expense for this semi-patriotic post. Believe me, I never expected to know, let alone share publicly, this truth about me. It’s a strange thing that it happened to me. I felt patriotic. Maybe it’s time to get started on my application for U.S. citizenship.

Truthfully yours,



4 responses to “American Pie, Please!

  1. I’m FOR your thinking. I’m FOR your questioning, critiquing, digging, wondering, wandering, longing, loving, reflecting, growing and loving. I’m FOR the way you’re living. I’m here FOR you, Rhina. And being able to say that is an honor FOR real. ;D

  2. Wow Rhina…in every word, every post you never cease to amaze and astound me! Keep on keeping on my sister…that’s about all I can find words to say…I’m speechless, yet inspired once again by your words!

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