We are not on our own

by Kristin on August 29, 2008

in Navigating a life in between

Last night, while we were eating dinner, Jason and I suddenly realized we couldn’t just turn on the kitchen radio and listen to Barack Obama’s historic acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. It’s not 1948, after all. We could see it all, so we had to see it. The sheer size of the crowd, the expressions on the faces of those who were there, the expression on Obama’s face as he talked—we had to be witnesses.

The fact that we don’t get any channels on our television is a bit of a setback at such moments, but we usually find ways to get around the problem. Last night the solution was a text to our friend Mary:

Me: Hey there! We’re wondering if we can invite ourselves over tonight to watch Obama. Mary: Sounds great, if you don’t mind watching two adults cry like babies.

She then suggested we bring “beer and hankies,” and it was a last-minute double date. (I did tear up, even though I didn’t actually expect to. I got goosebumps, too, especially when he said “Tonight I say…ENOUGH!”)

Decades from now, when I remember this shared national event, I will have my own personal backdrops. Most of what will be embedded in my memory will be the people I was with: Jason, Mary and Derek. The other will be the phone call I got from my mom about 10 minutes after Obama finished his speech. I actually expected to hear my dad’s voice on the other end of the line. He’s the politically active one who went to hear Obama speak in Lansing and applied to be an Obama delegate for Michigan at the DNC. He’s also the one who stays up long after my mom is usually fast asleep (it was about 11:30 in Michigan when my phone rang).

But it was my mom’s voice I heard, chanting “Go, Obama! Go, Obama!” As it turned out, my dad was out of town, and Mom had stayed up to watch the speech on her own. She was flying high and needed to connect with someone else who was, too. “I haven’t heard a political speech that inspiring and moving in…forever,” she said. “Not since Kennedy!”

As she bubbled over with respect and awe, I felt like I was catching a glimpse of the college student she was in the sixties, listening to JFK. “I couldn’t get over the expression on his face, and in his eyes,” she said of Obama. “There’s so much sincerity and compassion and humility there. It’s obvious that he feels it all so deeply. How can anyone call him aloof?”

Listening to my mom’s admiration of Obama filled me with an amazing sense of pride, gratitude and hope. It made me think, again, about my political heritage, which I referenced a few days ago in a previous post: That’s what my parents taught my brother and me: everyone matters, and we need to look out for others—even strangers and the less-than-desirable…. I think I knew from the time I started kindergarten that they were Democrats because it was the party that did the most to look out for everyone, not just the people with money and power and education.

It’s a belief that binds together my family, and Jason’s family. It’s a common belief that in turn connects our two families of origin, joining everyone through something even bigger than our marriage. And it’s a belief that ties us to our friends, and even strangers, wherever they are, whatever their motivation.

Obama touched on this theme last night, not surprisingly summing up the belief far more eloquently and passionately than I did in my last post. Although it’s difficult to choose my favorite part of the speech, this just might be it:

It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.

For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. You’re on your own. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

Well it’s time for them to own their failure. It’s time for us to change America.

Indeed. So let it be.

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