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Sunday, November 9, 2008

On President(-elect) Barack Obama

It is a joy so deep and quenching that, at times, it reminds me of grief.

Just when I think I’ve come to terms with the whole thing, there are tears at unexpected times. The night after the election, I turned on CNN in our hotel room after a long day, and I heard Wolf Blitzer say “President-elect Obama.” And then another newscaster after that. And then President Bush himself.

President-elect Obama. (The word “elect” is silent to my starved ear.)

The world feels turned on its head.

And I cry in front of strangers.

And I am full to the brim with it.

And my life has been changed: I can never go back to the time Before.

But these tears ride a river of joy unlike any I have ever known. Or thought I could know. Not just a massage-—a bath.

This joy, as sweet as it is, cannot replace my life’s triumphs. But it is a far deeper well. Like Jesse said, my tears are not just for me.

I feel joy for my grandmothers.

I feel joy for my grandfathers.

I feel joy for my parents—who watched the results at my side.

I feel joy for my son—who shrieked louder than anyone in the room.

I feel joy for my stepdaughter—who inherited a new world in time for college graduation.

I feel joy for my nieces, nephews and cousins.

I feel joy for my aunts and uncles.

I feel joy for strangers.

I feel joy for children everywhere.

I feel joy and grief for those who helped light the way, but who did not make it to this day. The fount of feelings seems endless.

But unlike with grief, I want to hold the feeling with all my might.

And never let it go.


Steve and I are in Antigua for the Antigua & Barbuda Literary Festival, a precious event we have attended before. We're having a wonderful time with fellow writers like Eric Jerome Dickey, Lorna Goodison , Tina McElroy Ansa and Elizabeth Nunez. We began our trip the day after the election, so we are watching events in the States from afar.

Business-wise, this is a hard time for many people in the publishing industry. Most of the gossip I’ve heard during this meeting of writers, editors, agents and publishers is grim.

But Barack Obama is everywhere, changing the mood.

The streets bear signs: “Antigua for Obama.”

The Prime Minister, Winston Baldwin Spencer—-who addressed our group on opening night—-announced that he has declared a new name for the island’s tallest peak: Mt. Obama.

When Obama’s name comes up with local residents, faces break into grins.

Obama is the toast of our tables at every meal.

We tell each other stories of reformed slackers and friends who posed for pictures with Obama, or received personal phone messages from him. (Or who, like my husband and sister, shook his hand.) We recite our favorite passages from his speeches, and how amazed we were by the operation he commanded.

We marvel at the healing image of Barack and Michelle as the strong and steady couple we all aspire to be—and Malia and Sasha melt our hearts.

We trade stories about the ways we are looking forward to visiting the Washington monuments or make it to the Inauguration, contemplating our citizenship in a fascinating new way.

We laugh. We cry. The world is laughing and crying with us, a party like none I’ve ever seen. We are dizzy from giddiness.

But we are also realists. We do not underestimate the task.

The iceberg is upon us, and President-elect Obama must race to turn the ship around.

We have readied our oars.

With our new captain, we will bear down and row.


Marielle said...

Beautifully written and beautifully said. I share in that joy and pride with you. I can only imagine what it was like to share that moment of history with your parents who were apart of the civil rights movement. I know how special it was for me to share it with my mother who grew up in the latter part of the segregation era. I still receive chills when I see footage of Tuesday when he won and of course, when I hear someone say President-Elect Barack Obama.... we did it!

Kiayaphd said...

It's funny that you mention becoming teary eyed when images of the election are broadcast across the screen. Someone sent me a powerpoint slide presentation this afternoon that included worldwide newspaper headline coverage of election day and I started crying all over again.

This is a beautiful time for America. I have several family members that I wish were still alive today to witness these events, but I'm content to know that they are beaming with pride from heaven.

Great post!