It was a miracle, plain and simple. The whole world held their breath Tuesday night as the election returns came in, state by state. First, McCain won West Virginia, Obama won Vermont. McCain got Tennessee and Texas, too. Texas was a very large red blob on the TV map. Lots and lots of red down the center of the country, the heartland, as it’s called. Too close to call in Virginia. McCain won Oklahoma. . . and so it went. But when Ohio was announced for Obama, I began to believe that maybe, maybe all the prayers of so many people had not gone unheard.
Art and I were sitting on our sofa when suddenly, there was a full screen with a large picture of Barack Obama and the words, “Barack Obama Elected President of the United States” (or words to that effect, I was frankly in a daze). I got a chill down my spine, and Art choked up. I couldn’t quite take it in, it was that massive. Art couldn’t stop dabbing his eyes. We held hands, spellbound in utter amazement.
Stunned, we listened to John McCain’s heartfelt and gracious concession speech. He did not acknowledge the angry outbursts from his disgruntled supporters. Sarah Palin stood by quietly, visibly shaken. We felt badly for them. It had been a long, hard-fought, hard-scrabble struggle for the soul of this country. But someone must win, and someone must walk away. I felt sad for the defeated McCain team. But I also knew that the best man had won.
Then the images of celebrations began to pop up on our screen. There were tens of thousands of people in Time Square, nearly a quarter of a million people, I have heard, in Grant Park, Illinois.
When Barack Obama and his family took the stage, I had a strange sensation of déja vu. Hadn’t I seen this movie once before? Oh, yes. Now I remember. This picture was superimposed upon a much older picture in my memory bank of a young, vibrant, charismatic man alongside his beautiful, elegant wife and their two sweet children. Of course. It was 1960, and the newly-elected John Kennedy was poised to take the reins of office. The whole country was in a celebratory mood. No one would have guessed a scant year earlier that a Roman Catholic could be elected president of the United States.
Once John Kennedy had been in office just long enough for the initial euphoria to wear off, he was subjected to the same kind of scrutiny all of his predecessors had experienced. His judgment was called into question. He was second-guessed. He was accused of nepotism for appointing his brother, Bobby, as attorney general. There were rumors of indiscretions with mysterious women. He had been brought up as part of the noblesse oblige, so how could he relate to the problems of ordinary citizens? His father had made his fortune running whiskey during prohibition. There were rumors of ties to the Mob.
Before long, we will begin to see all of the usual slings and arrows directed at our newly elected leader. Already, his choice of chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has been called into question. The choice was called “ironic” and some sniff that this is not in the spirit of change and bipartisanship. There are voices heard that criticize Obama’s campaign for the enormous amount of money spent in winning the election.
We must remember that, as Obama himself once quipped, he was not “born in a manger”. He is a human being, just like the rest of us. He loves his wife and his children. He mourns the passing of his grandmother. And he is smart enough to know that he doesn’t know everything, which is why he is assembling a crack team of experts to guide him through the rough waters of economic recession and simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wisely chose Joe Biden as his right-hand man, and his wife, Michelle, will be his closest adviser and confidante. But he’s going to need more, much more than that.
We, the American people, the people who fought so hard to make Mr. Obama our president, see in him the person we all aspire to be; calm, self-assured, courageous, intelligent, wise, caring, and committed to serving a greater purpose.
So the question now becomes, as John Kennedy so eloquently stated it, “. . .what we can do for our country”. Should we get involved in our local government? Volunteer at a homeless shelter or in a school? Become a mentor to an underprivileged child? Join the Sierra Club or contribute to a food pantry? Or simply wake up every day with the intention of being the best person we can be.
It won’t be easy for some of us. As my sister and I discussed the other day, those of us old enough to remember the Kennedys and Martin Luther King have had to numb ourselves to the pain of losing so many of our cherished leaders in the ’60s. We then had to live through many years in the wilderness under regimes that, more often than not, were insensitive to our concerns. So we are going to have to reawaken slowly to this new dawn, then figure out the most meaningful way to spend the rest of our lives.
I am saying a prayer every day for Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and their families– that they be kept safe and healthy, and that they be blessed with the strength and wisdom they will need in these troubled times. And I am praying the exact same prayer for each and every one of us.