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What is your most prized possession? I thought this question would be a piece of cake to answer. It has turned out to be one of the hardest. I completed an extensive mental inventory of possessions. My jewelry, clothes, electronics, and transportation even my beloved books yet not one stood out as prized or something I would miss not having in my possession. I felt that I could get over not having them if I had to do so. I was shocked at my lack of attachment and stumped. Then the mail arrived on Saturday.

My Saturday mail included one of those hard-cardboard mailers. This one wasn’t too large but thick. Not a book, what was it? I hadn’t ordered anything. I couldn’t recall anything outstanding or due to me. Lord, I hoped it wasn’t a bill, a large one at that. Finally, I thought to turn it over and noticed the sender was from Philadelphia. Now it clicked! It was my U.S. Passport. I found myself extremely relieved to have it back in my hands, my possession.

That’s when it hit me. One of my most prized possessions is this nondescript plain little booklet. This document allows me identity. It provides me great freedom to move around this great big world of ours by showing only this passport at customs for many countries. It is not required for me to have this document. However I feel more secure and prepared by having one. My Passport allows me to leave this country should I want or need to (have you looked at our political situation in D.C. lately) but then entitles me to be able to return. It confirms my birth and citizenship. If I lose my driver’s license or birth certificate, I can use my passport to prove I am who I am. For some reason, I’m also proud of this little blue book.

My first passport was issued to me when I was young girl in the early 1980s. I was supposed to go with my parents to Ireland. My dad had been informed that he had a small inheritance due him. It wasn’t that much of an amount, several hundred dollars if I recall, but dad wanted to see the country of his family. My dad also never passed up an offer of free money. Plans were made to return to the homeland. Applications for our passports were submitted.

I should have been ecstatic to go to Ireland. It was a great opportunity. I absolutely hated the idea. I pitched a fit about having to go with my parents, of all people. Yes, I had hit that stage. I didn’t go to Ireland that year. It is something I regret. I did use my Minor’s Passport one time. Two years later, I went on a school trip to Italy. That must have killed my dad but he agreed to let me travel. As you may figure, once you turn 18 years of age you need to renew your passport since you’re now an adult citizen. Yeah, I didn’t do that. I was attending college and living on campus. My new world was moving at high speed. I completely forgot I needed to apply for my adult passport. Plus at that age, I thought, how hard could it be to get a passport? So clueless.

You would have thought I would have had the brains to re-apply for my passport years before I did. I had talked about going to Ireland with a classmate from graduate school. She and I wanted to go before our 26th birthdays since the plan also included going to England, maybe France. If we went before turning 26, we could still get student rate train passes. Best laid plans…which didn’t include the reality that both of us were speech therapists. It was near to impossible to get approval for a day or two off. It would have meant our jobs to take a week or two off to travel to Europe. The guilt laid on us to shear bullying was unreal.

Then 9/11 happened. Now, you would have thought an event like that would have kicked me into gear to have a passport as backup. However, it was very hard for me to get on a plane to fly even domestically. My love for travel by air became soured. I feared it. The only plane I was able to get myself on after 9/11 was to fly to Boston in November 2001 to see that same friend get married. It took everything I had to get on that plane so soon after that day and right into the hornet’s nest of Boston. I no longer wanted to fly and she was no longer going to be available to traipse around Europe with her still single buddy. Why put the money out for a passport if I was afraid to fly? I didn’t even look into it for several years.

In 2006, two of my closest friends were going to be married. Both made plans to quit their high paying jobs, sell pretty much everything off (including their condo) and travel the world for a year or more. Friends were encouraged to meet them at various places around the world. My friends suggested I meet them in Ireland since my biggest regret was, yes, I never went with my parents. This was my now or never to finally get to see Ireland. I was 24 years delayed and I was determined to get there. It was time to research what I needed to do to get my passport.

It was no longer easy or cheap to get you passport by 2006. If I had had the forethought to save my minor’s passport, things would have been easier. My record could have been confirmed and the process would have been easier. That didn’t happen. It got tossed when my parents sold the house in 1989. I had to compile several documents, get my pictures taken just so and then go to the post office to stand in line all day from what I was told. Thankfully, a colleague stopped me before I went to the downtown Jacksonville Post Office, the vision of an Orwellian structure. Instead she directed me to go to a closer and smaller post office just over the county line in Ponte Vedra. She divulged this little known secret and ended up saving me hours. The staff was even courtesy. Lucky day! I became reunited with my passport as an adult. I was able to meet my friends in Ireland. I promised myself that I would never let it expire again.

I’ve kept that promise by a technicality. Yes, it expired February of this year. You’ll remember that I just received the renewed passport this weekend. Hmm…do the wheels of the Department of State move that slowly? Online they will say yes, there’s a large backlog of passports needing to be processed. In actuality it took only a month, not the online projection of 2-6 months. I guess the DOS likes to give themselves some wiggle room. Doing the math, it should now highlight that I waited 5-6 months after the passport expiration date to file my renewal application. That’s accurate. Being a procrastinator, I had researched online and read I could wait about that long to mail my renewal without having to redo some paperwork. I had some other things that needed money first vs. the $110.00 renewal fee (which I may add has increased significantly since 2006). With the six month post-expiration mark looming, I had no choice but to spend the money and send off my passport and renewal application. The hardest thing for me to do was to relinquish my passport. It was like giving a baby up for adoption. I anxiously waited to see that my check was cashed to verify that my passport had made it safely to the Department of State. I sighed in relief the day my online banking noted the check cashed.

Not only do I seem to have separation anxiety when it comes to my passport, remember I’ve mentioned that I experience a sense of pride about it too. I really can’t tell you why. I only know that when I see it and hold it I get a sense of pride. Maybe it’s the official U.S. emblem in gold on front. The Department of State has updated them too. They’re a little retro looking but classy. The covers feel thicker, sturdier. They used to be soft and bendable. Not anymore. Inside used to be very boring and plain blue sheets of pages for the stamps of the countries you visit. Now there are picturesque drawings of Americana like Mount Rushmore, the Bald Eagle, Native American Indian culture, and the American cowboy on the pages and inside covers. It’s actually kind of beautiful. As I held my new passport with renewed pride, I was curious about the updates made to the passport design. When curious, google it, of course. Let me share some of what I found.

I was correct when I thought the updates to the U.S. Passport were more than superficial in nature. Yes, we have more advanced computer graphic capabilities and laser printing, etc. However, advanced computer capabilities have also been utilized due to heightened security needs since 9/11. The hard thicker cover I just mentioned. I thought it was to make the passport sturdier. In actuality, the United States like many other countries have initiated the use of Biometric Passports, specifically 2007 for our country.

Biometric Passports are also known as ePassports or digital passports. The front and back covers of my new passport are thicker because they now have microprocessor chips and an antenna embedded in them. This enables smartcard technology to be used to hold my biometric information such as my digitalized picture and signature on file with the government (from when I signed my application forms). It facilitates communication with computerized equipment when I go to pass through customs. I’ve included a picture of what the current U.S. Passport looks like. The little symbol near the bottom of the front cover is what tells others that your passport contains this technology. Other countries’ passports have the capacity to store fingerprints and iris recognition in their biometric information. The U.S. Passports have the space available for fingerprint information. However, our government is still debating the inclusion of this information. Pretty cool but pretty freaky in some ways.

The U.S. Passport has had to grow up and adapt to our new world. It isn’t just a piece of paper with a big official seal, like back in colonial times when Benjamin Franklin designed it after France’s passport. We’re always told to make sure our passports are kept secure. Heightened security needs around the world have made this more of an imperative. Knowing that my current passport also contains these computer chips and antenna that can send my biographical information makes me feel the need to treat even more like a prized possession.

Reference: Wikipedia