It's Wednesday, November 5th, 2008. For months now, I've been wondering how I'd feel today.
I've had hope. I've worked hard. But I haven't had anything like confidence. No, I felt pre-election confidence for the last time in 2000, and feeling dead inside served me well on November 5th, 2004. This year, I really did believe that things were different. This Obama guy was a nobody, like that Clinton guy 16 years ago. Clinton charmed my generation by playing saxophone on tv. Obama charmed today's youth by keeping his MySpace page updated. (And Facebook. And Linkedin. And Twitter. And YouTube. And many more social networking sites you've never heard of.) And sending daily email to anyone who'd ever bought so much as a bumper sticker from his website. Yes, he invited us into his loop. From the very beginning, we were all asked—politely, I might add—to buy into the idea of Barack, the message of Obama.
Still, as activated as I was, as hopeful as I was, I still could not dare believe. Just two weeks ago, John McCain "guaranteed" that he would win. I guarded myself against feeling, again, the horror of waking up to a world where my values were so deeply de-valued. The shock I felt eight years ago—hearing on the radio from deep inside my dreams, that Bush had somehow won the election that had belonged to Al Gore at bedtime—that shock was still snapping in my emotional neurons. The first thing I said that morning was, "it's the end of the world." And indeed, it was. The first thing he did was alienate the people around him who could have helped avoid 9/11. And you know the story from there. The country I have lived in starting eight years ago today has had nothing to do with the future I had always imagined, the America of possibility I had been raised to believe in.
So, I was prepared for the worst, which disappoints me personally (I am the biggest and most annoying optimist I know), and instead I got a different kind of shock. The speed with which Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia turned blue filled our house with a rare giddiness. We poured our drinks from plastic tumblers into fancy stemware and toasted each state as it was listed for Obama. And suddenly, at eight o'clock, the decision was made. A second after the polls closed in California, the future I'd always dreamed of arrived.
In this future, there is a focus on what works. There are people in the white house who are smarter than me. People who listen to each other, treat others respectfully, and embrace possibility. People who have not made up their minds already.
And this morning, hallelujah, that grey feeling in the pit of my stomach is finally gone.
There are, instead, butterflies of excitement. Indeed, I have been overcome with emotion, every time I have a thought like "They said he was unelectable," or "If this Lincoln thing bears out, there may be an Obama Monument someday."
I always knew I would feel relief today, relief that Bush is really done. Since long before someone gave us the countdown clock to his departure. But up until 8:00 last night there was a possibility that we all would have waken up this morning with the mission to endure four more years of trademark McCain/Palin condescension. There was also a possibility, in the face of widespread voter fraud, that we would have to storm the white house. But the revolution is happening without the bloodshed and violence of the 1960s, when Barack and I were born.
I keep walking around today, bursting into tears. Here is how I am feeling: relieved, triumphant, recognized. There is going to be someone in the white house who I understand and can identify with. And sometimes, between fits of random sobbing, I burst into song. "This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius..." Today, I'd like to teach the world to sing... in perfect harmony!
But the relief is the biggest feeling. Relief at not having to endure McCain. I know he is not George Bush, and would have been an improvment. In fact, I even had great respect for him before he started the "straight talk" machine. But as I've gotten to know John, I've noticed endurance is a core theme for him. As is the military. His family, his wife's family, his running mate's family, were all shaped by military life. Not to criticize the military—I do appreciate the role it plays in our society, and deeply respect those who have fought for us and are fighting now. But there is more to this country than war. As much as Mr. McCain has overcome in his life, I have come to see his battle scars as a sad symbol of failure. His reach has been brutally shortened by the ritual abuse of war. As my president, I would have judged him, harshly, for a failure to see beyond a life of war. I would have felt my familiar, gut-level conflict as he "froze" the nation's spending. I would have felt outrage as he encouraged abstinence-only education, cut funding for pre-natal care, and appointed conservative supreme court judges. I would have felt like a neglected child of divorce as he struggled to keep the Religious Right happy and continued to feed the public with dumbed-down talking points. As school budgets were cut even further, I would have continued to put my own goals aside to fight for a child's right to health care and education. I would have felt despair at the lies and twisted truths that would continue to come out of his administration and party. I would have started calling him "Stubby." Publicly. Derisively. I would have equated him, fairly or not, with Bush.
Instead, I feel a huge, overwhelming relief that McCain's "guarantee" was just another lie—the Republican Party had not actually re-activated Diebold. I feel sad for the Americans who bought into it, and those who believed it when they were scared into believing Obama was a terrorist, a socialist, a communist, a voo-doo wizard. I pray that they may see him for who he is, a man who played it straight all the way to the top (without ever calling himself "straight-talk"), a man who pledged last night, "I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face." A man who appeals to our higher natures, and connects them with the depths of understanding. I suspect McCainanites might be feeling, in their own way, like I might have felt if John had been right about winning. I am hoping they won't feel gray in their stomachs for very long.
I am hoping that they will feel as inspired as I feel today. I am hoping they will feel called by "a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other."
This year, I've noticed a lot of people feeling challenged to move beyond their comfort zones, and I'm no exception. I have surprised myself in the past week as I've called voters, struck up conversations with neighbors, and argued, articulately, even, for what is right. Is this Obama's influence, or are we all being kicked by the stars to all reach beyond ourselves? "Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential." President Obama asks us all to step into our power.
All we needed was an invitation.