Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The End Of The Beginning

Like many other people last night, at precisely 11PM when the polls closed in California, Oregon and Washington, and Keith Olbermann called the election, I started to cry. Steady, solid, weeping that kept coming in waves.

Then I glanced at the screen where the MSNBC director was flipping from one celebration to another and saw many others crying: Blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, young, old, men, women, all over the country. A series of individual shots that, together, redefined the United States of America last night.

There was a student at Spellman College in Atlanta who collapsed in tears and was being comforted by her friends.

Then Oprah was leaning on the shoulder of the man in front of her as she cried uncontrollably, Jesse Jackson standing directly behind her with two rivers flowing freely down his face.

A quick shot of a nursing home day room where elderly white men and woman, some in wheelchairs, one man wearing an American Legion cap, some cheering and some wiping their eyes with tissues.

Cut to a sports bar in Georgia where white and black faces kissed each other, and hugged.

And always back to Grant Park in Chicago. The roar of the poor, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to be free lifting their voices and their smiles and their hands in relief and jubilation and ecstacy and exhaustion.

I thought of my mother, who died in 1996. She had my sister and me sit in front of the television when Dr. Martin Luther King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial before an endless sea of people who only had hope for a different tomorrow. Their - our - tomorrow finally came at 11PM Eastern time last night. I remembered how she wanted to go to that rally but Dad talked her out of it because it might become "dangerous." It turned out, the only dangerous thing was Dr. King's ideas.

John McCain came on screen in Pheonix to concede, giving the best speech of his campaign and silencing the yahoo's in the crowd who booed when he mentioned Barack Obama. Then back to the studio where someone was reading a White House transcript of Bush's congratulatory call to Obama where he told the President-elect to "go out and enjoy yourself." Only George W. Bush would hand the presidency of a country he came close to ruining to someone by saying Obama should "enjoy himself." It was akin to urging people to shop after 9/11.

Finally, there was Obama himself. He gave a better, more encompassing vicory speech than most inaugural addresses over the past 30 years.

Someone, it might have been Chris Mathews, said he looked "exhausted." He may have been that after 20 months of campaigning but, to me, he looked somber. Written all over Obama's face was the reality of the burden he suddenly bore, not just for himself and the country but the entire world. Even after his speech, when Joe Biden and his family and the throng of relatives and well-wishers crowded around him, he couldn't shake the look of a man who suddenly realises how alone he is.

I remember what Jack Kennedy said the first morning he was president and walked into the Oval Office. Surrounded by long-time aides and advisors, he sat in the chair behind the Lincoln desk that he requested be brought out from the Smithsonian Institute, looked up and asked, "Now what the hell do we do?"

Last night, Obama's face showed that he knew full well "what the hell do we do." But he's not alone. He has tens of millions of people around the country, and around the world, there to help. Our work has just begun.

6 comments:

Pete in FL said...

Reminds me much of a major battle my unit of the 101st Airborne fought in Vietnam a long time ago. After three days of hell on earth, it was over. Our casualities were enormous, 70% of my line company was dead or wounded. But we had persevered.

The relief, and emotion was unbelievable.

I haven't felt that way in 40 years.

But I did last night.

God Bless America.

Ann said...

Last night McCain was gracious & he needs to keep those promises to fix the mess.

I'm delighted - for everyone who worked so hard. I think most for my friends, an African-American couple, 79 & 84 years old. They never thought they would live to see this day dawn. She cried for joy but I believe for the pain of those denied too long.

I saw Obama gulping back his emotions. I believe he is exhausted & hope he takes some time to grieve his Grandmother's passing and to re-energize for the hard work ahead.

Mike and Micheline said...

Happy days are here again. The whole world is rejoicing at his election.

Lisa in Canada said...

To my American friends:

Last night the vision of two men, two families, two colors in Grant Park, struck me deeply for the first time. But as I witnessed the enormity of what you had achieved, I realized that breaking an obvious barrier was not what I was witnessing at all. That historical moment was so much more, so much bigger, than black or white, young or old, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, Republic or Democrat.

I believe President-elect Obama's campaign succeeded not only because America was ready for a change from what was broken in the White House. I believe Barak Obama won the Democratic nomination and ultimately achieved such a decisive, inclusive national victory last night because of what was broken in the hearts of the American people.

It was Einstein who said you can't solve a problem with the level of thinking at which it was created. Obama's steadfast commitment to focusing on the vision of what can be, to address the differences of opinion for what they are, to rising and staying above the noise and negative fray –raised the tide and tone to one worthy of the campaign, the office of the President, and the people of the nation he serves.

I know in my heart that this is what all of you, the American people have sought, what you deserve, what you voted for and ultimately, what you have achieved. This was not a victory of a party or a color, nor an indictment of the alternative result. The true enormity of what you have achieved is a the moment in history where a man has been judged on the content of his character.

I believe, as a fan for many years of the man who is also Senator John McCain, that last night he spoke fully from his heart, perhaps for the first time since the primaries. By expressing to his supporters his deep admiration for Obama, pledging to do all in his power to help, and urging that they give to him their goodwill and support, he rose on that same tide.

So as your neighbor and friend, whatever your views, whatever mine, I wish you well in the difficult days and months ahead. I pray that President-elect Obama will earn and deserve your support. I extend to you my gratitude for electing a man who has an ability to bring to the entire world the deeper, more mature, more thoughtful example of leadership and character people everywhere desire from our leaders. And I extend to you both my heartfelt congratulations, and my continued respect.

God bless.

Lisa

Anonymous said...

Some people think he has too much on his plate but when people believe something is possible, then it is possible. I think there is hope in th U.S. today and in many other places as well.

He'll start performing miracles and then everyone will think he is the Messiah.

Kathy said...

My small addition to the moving narrative is that I received an email from a friend who is terminally ill who talked about the tears, joy and sense of hope she experienced with the election of Obama.