Thursday, November 06, 2008

At the Base of the Mountain: Tough Times Ahead

My tears came as I watched President Elect Obama give his heartwarming acceptance speech in Grant Park. The crowd looked like a Norman Rockwell painting of America—all ages, all colors, famous people and ordinary people. One young white woman was so overcome with emotion that she was on her knees with her head in her hands sobbing. I understood.

One of my favorite shots was of two young white men, who were mature enough to have voted in previous elections, facing the front with joyous smiles as they waited for Obama to come join the crowd. I understood that too. I saw them again a time or two today as stations replayed last night’s events, so I knew there was something about their vitality, expectation, and excited happiness that also attracted the ones editing that film.

My tears came again when I saw the tears of Jesse Jackson, and I smiled as I watched Oprah smiling as she blended inconspicuously with those around her. And I cried and laughed as I watched the emotion and delight of black Americans there—some very young and some very old. I knew I could never fully understand their emotions. Spike Lee said this morning in an interview that he was still processing and sorting it all out. This was too big for any of us to understand. But the recognition that from now on the world is different has continued to fill the TV and computer screens today.

More than one commentator quoted Obama’s warning that we have difficult times ahead. We have enormous problems that can’t be solved in a year or a four-year term. But we can work together, suffer together, stick together, and get through together the problems we are in.

I have often heard people say that they were poor during the Depression, but because everyone else was, they did not know they were poor. I also have read accounts of those who lived on tight budgets in crowded student barracks on the G.I. Bill following World War II, who said that those were some of the happiest days of their lives. The camaraderie of living in community with those in the same circumstances made for warm friendships and caring neighborhoods.

At this time of economic crisis, we have an opportunity to readjust our values and learn to exalt in both companionship and challenge. People experienced that last night at Grant Park and in living rooms across the land. And because we live in a global world, in lands across the sea.

Now we need to get to work to better our nation. Jobless families may need to plant food on their patios and in vacant lots until new jobs arrive. We need to keep our food pantries full. Let’s conserve the resources of our planet Let’s not lazily put good items in our landfills if someone in the community needs that mattress or chest-of-drawers. If we have the ability to create jobs, let us do it. Let us help one another build strong families. Let’s all work to educate ourselves to a higher level than we now are. We can learn from Obama’s grandmother the value of hard work and from his mother the value of education that caused her to get up before dawn to give her son extra tutoring.

Let’s teach ourselves to have courage just as those young men and women who went to Iraq had to have unbelievable courage to function. Let us learn to love one another whether we can understand one another or not.

I was touched last night by Senator McCain’s speech and today by President George Bush’s sincere expression of good will towards the new President. As Barack Obama is fond of saying, only in America. Only in America can that kind of cooperation and respect between opposing political parties take place. Regardless of whom we supported, almost all of us voted for the candidates we thought would be best for our country. The issues are complicated, and it is not surprising we don't all agree on what is the best solutions.

We can rejoice that the democracy will go on. Whether it goes on successfully or not is up to all of us. We can face the future with fear and despair. Or we can acknowledge the dangers and the fear, but do so with dignity and courage that we can get through whatever challenges lie ahead.

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