A couple of days ago, I was having coffee with an African American friend and we were discussing the upcoming election. I told her that I was worried that if there was a close election and Obama lost in a fashion similar to Al Gore’s infamous defeat in 2000 that there would be civil unrest. She replied that she feared there would be civil unrest either way – given the inflamed rhetoric of the McCain-Palin campaign and the anger and resentment they were flaming among working class white Americans towards the terrorist/socialist/tax-happy/alien black man who wants to ruin America. She also talked about how she feared for the psychological and emotional well being of African American elders who view today’s election in almost Biblical proportions. Many of them, she felt, old, infirm, sick, were holding on for dear life to cast their ballot and see a new world dawn for their grandchildren and all future generations.
Which is why the passing of Barack Obama’s grandmother is so sad today. She died in her sleep yesterday in Hawaii, one day before the election that could make her beloved grandson President of the United States of America. That story has Biblical overtones as well — Moses not getting to the promised land, Martin Luther King’s dream deferred. One can only imagine Obama’s personal emotional struggles during this campaign…. His deeply rooted sadness and anger when discussing his 53 year old mother’s death to cancer and her worry about how she would pay her hospital bills when her insurance company refused to pay for pre-existing condition. Or the profound nature of the timing of his grandmother’s death—and his sharing his disappointment in himself for not visiting his mother sooner — hence his journey home in the midst of his campaign to make sure he did not make the same mistake with his grandmother.
So these are some of my thoughts as I sit here this morning at my desk and get ready to cast my vote for him. But I also think about his Kenyan father and his Indonesian step father. I think about his memoir, Dreams of My Father, which I was reading in the final weeks of his campaign and noting all of the seeds of his current journey. I think that Barack Obama’s experiences in Kenya and in Indonesia along with his American upbringing and top-notch education make him uniquely qualified to be the leader of a 21st Century America — an America that is still the leader of the free world, but one that is knowledgeable about the history, cultures and people of other places and one who does not believe that American must force its values on other countries or that America is the center of the universe — a leader who can understand complexity and paradox — a leader who can inspire people to believe in the future, even when it is painfully obvious that the future will contain disappointments and struggles — maybe even sacrifices.
Yesterday I was talking to my mother about her mother who was born in 1904 and died in 1972. To my grandmother, Chicago was as far away to her as China is to us today. After crossing the ocean from Russia with her parents, she settled in Philadelphia and never left — that is until two weeks before she died when she threw caution to the wind and accepted an invitation from a man-friend to drive with him to Florida. She suffered a massive stroke just as his car was entering Miami. I don’t know if she ever realized she had arrived at her destination.
Life is full of these kinds of stories… dreams put on hold, destinations never reached… Sadness and disappointment. Yesterday in the New York Times, conservative pundit William Kristol wrote an editorial in which he talked about losing the election. He said that in the somewhat likely event that McCain loses the election, the conservatives will be disappointed but they will accept it and move on. It’s the liberals he says that he is concerned about… noting the deep seated emotional stake that so many of us have in the election of Barack Obama. Of course he goes on to make a wry satirical argument that liberals can bask in a McCain victory as an opportunity to celebrate an underdog’s victory — something that he claims liberals love to do. Despite the sarcasm there is a ring of truth to his words – particularly when he addressed the emotional commitment and personal stake that Obama supporters like my friend’s elders have for their candidate and for this election.
Do I think Obama will be a perfect leader? Do I believe that his election will solve the multitude of problems we face both at home and abroad? Of course not. But there is something to be said for hope. I’ll take that over fear and cynicism any day– in my personal life and in the life of this great nation.
Today at 7:49 in the morning on Election Day in America, I am allowing myself to be cautiously hopeful. It feels good.