War, peace, damage, and healing (or life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness)

I was debating if I should post about this or not, but oh well, it is something I feel compelled to share. Yesterday, my dear friends, I became a US Citizen! It has been a LOOOONG journey, of so many application forms, immigration appointments, sometimes unbearable anxiety, and a few ups and downs as a Green Card holder over the past 10 years. I thought the Oath ceremony was just going to be one more bureaucracy step I had to go through to end all this, a not specially memorable appointment like so many others I had already gone through. Little did I know I would be so overwhelmed. I had to consciously keep holding back tears the minute I left the house to drive to Philly (a concern that, according to my very wise and practical sister, I will never again experience once I get some water-proof Mary Kay eyeliner from her!).

Eventually, mid-ceremony, I couldn't hold back those tears any longer. A whole film started playing in my mind, as if I had pressed play on a Google Glass documentary of my life since 2005: bittersweet scenes of the first departure, saying good bye to my family at the airport in Bahia -- my mom so silent, pale, with slightly smeared red lipstick and an incredulous and fearful look in her eyes, and my brother nervously handing me a scrunched note that shared the as yet secret news that he was going to be a father; the excitement and love I felt when I first arrived in Allentown; the insecurities and fears; the joys and the tears; seeing the house become a home; the beauty and novelty of the first Spring; the painful experience of the first Winter; the early years getting acquainted with the subtleties of building and living a life where you are not from (something that only Martinelli could write so well about, in case you dare to read Portuguese); the many Monday nights at The Jazz Gallery, as a fly on the wall; driving cross-country just to watch a boxing match;  the bonds created and the ones that have been broken; the solitude I have often felt (still do), but also the sweet friends I have made; the life coaches and mentors, whether they are aware of their role as such or not; missing people and situations and feeling that I had been missed; the loved ones with whom I would be so very eager to share these good news, but can no longer reach with a phone call (Adélia, Orlando, Wilma...). "Ain't that something?"

[...come on, USCIS, start sending water-proof eyeliner along with the appointment notices, will you?!? ]

Mind you, the ceremony had already included a welcome video with a seemingly teary-eyed Obama <3, and another one filled with "music-to-make-you-cry" and faces of overjoyed people from around the world, from little kids to elders, holding their certificate and waving their tiny flags in their own naturalization ceremonies. Adding to all that, while I gazed at one fixed point of the screen in hopes that my tears would become somehow invisible, I could hear so many people around me also crying timidly, women and men, and thought of how all of them were probably also reliving their own stories. I kept imagining what they (and their family) have gone through to be there, what they might have left behind to move in the direction they are moving.

The room was filled with people from 35 different countries:  Iran, Bangladesh, Mexico, Iraq, India, Japan, China, Ukraine, Ethiopia... to name the few I remember. I have had my personal dramas over the years, here and there, some more overwhelming than others, but I can't say I had a difficult ride, in the sense that I had all the material resources/support I needed, I am healthy and safe, and at all times I have always had a roof over my head, good food, great friends, and a great family that is also mostly healthy and safe. Those are part of my basic needs, and I have always been covered on those ends. I am very thankful for that. But I wonder about the people who have migrated from all those different countries, for reasons others than love: the ones hoping for a better life for their family, striving to build something that will help support their loved ones for generations; the ones trying to fulfill professional or personal goals and dreams, whatever they might be; and the ones fleeing from fear, hunger, war, disasters, despair. 

Each of us are part of different communities, and as part of those communities we struggle with issues that may not be recognized as valid or important for members of other communities. Now, for example, we are so angry and eager to post against acts of terrorism here or there, and tragedies close or far, stressing how one should be seen as more tragic or important than the other, quick at finding who to blame for what. Meanwhile, we have the most powerful tool for the change we so wish to see: ourselves.

We are the only ones whose actions we are indeed in control of, if that. I am all for social media activism (I place myself in that category), for being a member of political parties, civil societies, religious groups, and all that. But while I am definitely a gregarious being, and each year more certain of that, I have an enhanced understanding that change comes only from and through individuals. For that, it is very important to constantly remind ourselves to look in the mirror, and looking at ourselves in the mirror can be very very painful and suffocating.

It is important to be active in helping others with the means and abilities we have. And it is equally important to be careful about not hurting others, being aware of what we have done to hurt others (and we all have, let's be honest!), and doing the best we can to help them heal. Most tragedies we condemn -- with profile flags and memes and endless arguments with those who think differently -- have started and ended the same way: with human beings that have been hurt, one way or another. Maybe as a start we could pledge not to add insult to injury. How in the world are we supposed to fix damage with more damage?