Saturday, November 22, 2008

Giving Thanks for my life and for the 44th President

I am thankful for many things. My beautiful girls. A roof over my head and food in my mouth. As much as I complain about working, I am thankful that for the last 9.5 years I have been able to pay most of the bills, mostly by working from home. That work has rarely kept me from a class trip or a parents association meeting, or a performance or birthday party or any of the many events big and small that have happened in my children's lives.

I am thankful, truth be told, for The Bull. With all the problems we've had, with all the turmoil, with all the tears over the years, I still have to recognize that he and I have stood by each other's sides and been there for our girls together. I am thankful that, when things are good with us, we realize that there is still SO much for us to discover about each other. I am thankful that we are still growing and developing within this relationship. I don't where the future will lead us. But I am thankful for what we have right now.

There's a lot that I want in my life. But this day, I know that I have very much to be thankful for. For some reason, this morning, before I was even fully awake, before I even remembered it was Thanksgiving, I had this flash of clarity in which I was thankful for toilet paper. I suddenly remembered going to this mock refugee camp that Doctors Without Borders set up in Prospect Park a couple of years ago and learning that people there didn't have toilet paper. And this morning I thought about what would happen if our economy collapsed, or if there was a major disaster. That something as simple and basic as toilet paper, something I take completely for granted, could actually become a luxury. IS a luxury for some people. That there could be a day when my preference for soft, cushy Charmin, could be forgotten and that I'd be happy for any kind of paper.

So, today, I'm thankful for even the simplest of things.

And I am thankful for the big things too. I am thankful that Barack Obama will, in less than two months, be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

This past election day, for the first time in many years, I was excited to go vote. I took the girls with me and the three of us pulled the lever together. And I felt very conscious of the fact that we were joining history as we flipped that little black switch. Though I'd previously had the opportunity to vote in six Presidential elections, none of them had felt historic. And the candidate I voted for only won two out of those six times I voted for President.

This time, though, history swirled around me as I entered the polls and for the first time ever, I was certain, beyond any doubt, that my candidate would win. I'd had moments all through the year when I knew Obama would be President and each time I had one of those moments it became harder for me to let doubt cloud my certainty.

This election day, I could so clearly remember my introduction to Barack Obama - the first time I saw him I was certain he would one day be President of the United States. I watched him speak at the Democratic Convention in 2004 and thought, "If this guy were running, we'd definitely win," and then, almost immediately realized, "Wow! This guy is going to run for President someday, and he's going to WIN!" At the time, I thought he would do that in 2012. In fact I spent time at the very beginning of his campaign thinking he'd made the wrong choice, that he should have waited for 2012. I'm thankful he didn't wait.

Some time earlier this year - maybe even around the end of last year - I heard Barack Obama make a speech that changed everything for me. I don't remember his exact words - I just remember that I felt compelled to get up and DO something. And I started looking around me and seeing that other people were doing things - or talking about doing things - all inspired by Obama. I realized that this man was a once in a lifetime kind of leader. He could motivate and inspire others - and there are so few people throughout the course of history who could do that - and too many of them have employed that talent in a negative fashion. I am thankful that he came along in my lifetime.

Thankful that there is this man who embodies all the charisma and power and sheer motivational force of a true leader and he is also intelligent and aware and has had both a broad range of life experience and plain old integrity. How rare is that? How unusual? Really, how many people like him are born in a century? In a millennium?

When I heard that speech, no matter how good I felt about Hillary - and I started out feeling really good about her - there was no doubt that Obama was the only real candidate. For me, Hillary represented the best that politics had to offer, but Obama's appeal was beyond politics. I felt and still do feel that he became a part of the system in order to do things, make changes, fulfill ideals that were born outside of the system.

Wow, it sounds like almost a religious fervor I have for him. And honestly, while I don't place him on a pedestal, don't think he is any kind of deity, I do now understand a little of what religious people feel. I never understood the idea that a belief in God or Jesus or Allah or whoever could make someone a better person - or want to be a better person. I've always believed that you are (or should be) good for the sake of being good - not because some unseen entity says you should be good.

And yet, Barack Obama inspires me to be better, try harder, challenge myself and my thinking, open my mind, explore, ask questions, look for answers, devise solutions, think, care, do. How can I not be thankful for someone who inspires so much, not only in me but in so many people.

Not that I put Obama on a pedestal of any kind. I recognize that he is human and will have his flaws will make decisions and policies that I don't agree with - may even have some scandal or another pop up along the way.

By the way, I don't believe that the "scandals" that came up during the campaign were scandalous at all. The Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers things actually help solidify my respect for and belief in him as someone who is open to looking at our country and our government objectively. Both Wright and Ayers represent people who have found fault with many of the practices of our government over the years. The way they expressed their disdain for these practices wasn't the best - but that doesn't mean that they didn't have a valid point of view that is shared by many people.

That Barack Obama was open to hearing and understanding these points of view is vitally important. A true leader can't just walk around saying that everything is fine and ignoring the people who say it isn't. He HAS to listen to those who are pointing out the flaws. He has to be willing to see the cracks, to notice the tarnish, to acknowledge that there is decay that can make everything crumble if it isn't attended to. That's what Obama's association with these men represents to me - an openness to seeing and acknowledging the ways that our government hasn't always worked, that our country hasn't always lived up to it's promise. I am thankful that someone with an open a mind and the intelligence to not be afraid of dissent is about to take office.

And now he is about to be President and we will see what he does with all his insight and openness, how he uses his ability to inspire and motivate. I believe he will use it well. But even if he doesn't, even if he makes mistakes - he has already done a spectacular thing that will ripple throughout history affecting many things and people for years to come.

The morning after election day, Sugar said to me that she hoped Obama would bring the change he promised. And with tears in my eyes (I cried a lot that day because the emotions were so full within me that my eyes seemed to be the only outlet for them) I told her that no matter what he did, he had changed everything - us, our country, the world, history - forever. And it seems that a thousand times a day I am struck by and thankful for the ways that Barack Obama being elected President of the United States of America changes so much.

I am thankful that every little kid who is too young to understand what's going on with this election, and every child who is yet to be born, will never know a world in which there has never been a President of color. The same way that my kids don't know what it's like to live in a world without a computer or a dvd player or a microwave oven - Spice will never understand what it's like for there to have never been a brown man in the White House. A friend of mine was determined to get papers the day after election day so she would have them to show her grandchildren - and I found myself thinking that our grandchildren may well look at those papers and wonder what the big deal is?

I am thankful that every kid who's ever been teased for having a funny name - will now be able to point to the President and say "See where having a funny name gets you!" It's like the Kevin Henkes book Chrysanthemum come to life on a big scale. (Though, it might well be that in the kindergaten classes of 2013 and 2014 Barack might be a quite common name.)

I realize and am thankful that for the first time in my life I want to watch each and every Presidential address and that I will encourage my children to watch as well. That what is happening in the government will not just be background noise that I feel hopeless and helpless about. That I will be informed about what the President has to say and what he's doing, not because I consider it some obligation of duty, but because I WANT to know. I want to hear him speak, want to know what he has to say. Want to know what I can do, what I should know, what I can learn from him this time. And that, again, I am not alone - that here is a man who millions WANT to listen to.

I am thankful that for the first time since the Bill Cosby show went off the air, there have been and will continue to be, consistently positive images of a Black man and Black family on the airwaves. And I realize that this isn't just good for Black people - but for everyone. That we all need to see the negative stereotypes broken with as much regularity as we have seen them reinforced.

I realize that for Black people in particular this is a huge thing. That it is vitally important to the self-esteem or each and every one of us to see a positive representation of ourselves over and over and over again - and that's something Black folks have had in short supply. And that a lot of brown people who feel good about themselves is good for everyone. That people who feel bad about themselves usually do there best to make everyone miserable and people who feel good about themselves, tend to want to spread the joy. I am thankful that there is about to be someone in the White House who can make all of us feel good about ourselves.

I realize that Obama's win goes way beyond race - that it's was truly like a battle between good and evil and I am thankful that for the first time in my life - the good guy won. Not just the guy who could play the game the best - whatever the game happened to be - but the Good Guy. I told a friend that when they announced Obama won I had a feeling like I had as a teenager seeing the Death Star blown up at the end of Star Wars. She laughed and said that for her it was like seeing the house fall on the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. It comes down to the fact that for both of us - and I think for millions of people - the good guy only wins in the movies. But not this time. This time the Good Guy won for real. Who can't be thankful for that?

And if seeing positive images of a Black man and a Black family does something positive for the self-image of Black people - what kind of wonderful things does it do for EVERYONE to see that being good, having integrity, taking the high road can win the prize? Doesn't that make each and everyone of us value the good within ourselves a little bit more? Yes, we should all be good for the sake of being good. But it's extra sweet when being good means being victorious.

And on a very personal note - though I'm sure there are thousands of people out there who have the same personal note - how thankful am I that there will be two brown girls growing up in the White House while I am raising my own two brown girls. And doesn't it help that the older one is almost the same age as my oldest and that she too seems quiet and introspective while having a bouncy, vibrant, younger sister who's a bit of an attention-hog. And, can I tell you that when I told Sugar that the Obama family wants to adopt a shelter dog - but that might be difficult because Malia is allergic - so they need a hypoallergenic dog - my girl just beamed! Because, of course, she is allergic and we wanted to adopt from a shelter - so it took months for us to find Oberon. As I looked in Sugar's eyes and saw her pride at having something in common with Malia, I realized that it's not just Obama who will inspire and encourage and uplift and instill self-pride. It's his whole family.

I am thankful that this man can inspire not just personally, but globally. That here is a man who's election was cheered around the world. That hopefully the perception of his intelligence can extend to us all. That people around the world can look at Americans and think of us, first and foremost, that we elected an intelligent, thoughtful, brown man. That we could make an intelligent choice. That we are not ruled and motivated by fear and ignorance. I am thankful that the American people have shown themselves to have some plain old good sense.

And lastly, I have to say that the culmnination of history and the efforts of many in Obama is just overwhelming to me. On a bulletin board in Sugar's school some one posted up a huge paper with with the following written on it,

"Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so our Children could fly."

When I saw that the morning after election day, I burst into tears. The truth of it is so evident to me. Except that that it's incomplete. There are SO many people, of multiple ethnicities, who have played a part in the history that has led to it being possible for Obama to be elected. In my mind I see a huge timeline of the history of this country and all along it the images of people stand out and look towards today and Obama and I know that he is here where he is, and when he is, because of each and every one of them. I have never felt that before. Never felt the evidence and impact of history as I do in him and his being elected.

I am thankful for a history that has led to this moment in time. And thankful that this moment is now.


Doulala said...

Sigh, I'm so glad you're writing again!

The Bear Maiden said...

Yeah, and somehow I had missed the return. And now you're not writing again. But I'm always listening for you..