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We aren’t really planning to travel anywhere, except for Kyril’s Irish Step World Championships trip to Glasgow next Spring. But still, I put a note on my multicolor, multilevel, multi-everything computer calendar to remind me that almost everyone’s passport was near expiration. I made sure Kolbe’s was renewed before he left for college. And when September rolled around, I did a home photo shoot of four of the five kids left at home and guided a communal filling out of forms at the dining room table. “Now, line 17. Does anyone know where your father was born?”
Juliana was interested, but exempt. That’s because she’s on her own renewal schedule, and got her new U.S. passport last year. But because her older sister is now working in Russia, it occurred to me that Juliana’s Russian passport had probably expired. I went online to find out how to renew the passport of a Russian-born American adopted minor child. Because she was born in Russia, Juliana enjoys dual citizenship. Unless she renounces either her American or Russian citizenship--and I hope she never does--belonging to two nations is something Juliana will always have.
Recently, I’ve looked into applying for dual citizenship myself, not in Russia, but with the Republic of Slovenia. Evidently, the small relatively new nation that was part of former Yugoslavia is now granting citizenship on the basis of ancestry through the fourth generation. It seems you only need to have one ancestor to qualify. I’m fully half Slovenian, and only the third generation born here. I don’t speak the language, though I’ve certainly tried to learn it. But I have done a reasonable job of observing and passing on the cultural and historical heritage of one of Europe’s smallest ethnic groups. Our kids have grown up with Sveti Miklavs (St. Nicholas Day), traditional blessed basket of symbolic Easter foods, intricately colored eggs (thanks to the help of our cultural cousins, the Ukrainians), a household family shrine of religious items, stories of their ancestors’ homeland and immigration, music, dancing and an awareness of what Slovenes have contributed to the world. (For a little Alpine country the size of Massachusetts, there’s more than one would expect.)
Cultural identity is much more than what you serve for holiday dinners. I’ve been to Slovenia twice, though not in a very long time. And even though I didn’t know my way around, or understand much of the language, it still felt not at all like a foreign country, but strangely very much like home. Maybe it was because everyone looked like me, behaved in similar ways, and seemed to value the same things. The toughness, the laughter, the intensity and music and drama were all very familiar. I experienced a commonality that was preserved over three generations by the way my mother’s side of the family raised their children. The few distant relatives I met there were cut from the same fabric as the ones I knew all my life. Because I’ve raised my children the same way, I think they’d have the same experience I did. If and when they walk down to the bridge in Ljubljana or along the shores of Lake Bled, they won’t feel as if they’re far away from home. They’ll discover they’ve had another home all along.
As Christians, we are dual citizens too. We make our homes here on earth, but we have an eternal home being prepared for us in heaven. We are citizens there as we are here, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with belonging to something greater than ourselves. We have a history and a culture, a language and literature, a heritage of art and music and relatives both close and distant. We are part of what Peter called “a holy nation,” a “royal priesthood,” a “people set apart.” And as strange as it may seem, I am convinced that, when we get there, heaven will feel surprisingly familiar. We’ll be known and loved, accepted and embraced by others with whom we share the most fundamental things: faith in God, and love for Him.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.