Friday, November 7, 2008

Good-bye to the past, hello to the future

It is three days after Barack Obama's historic presidential victory.  It's hard to imagine that I can pen anything moving or even original after all the poignant and sob-inducing essays published the world over these past 72 hours.  Still, we can only speak from our own experience.

I have been a small and peripheral part of the Obama campaign.  Moved by him from the beginning, I split my allegiance between Edwards and Obama until Edwards dropped out.  Hillary's assumptive posturing and her predictable scripted path was more than I could stomach, even given her impressive accomplishments and her dogged perseverance in pursuit of her goal.  

I have always been a sidelines political supporter, but the Bush years insisted I get off my butt.  My son was just 18 months old when George W. Bush was elected.  This president's attack on the future has always felt like a direct attack on my family and my son.

So, I joined the Obama nation.  I put stickers on my car, I held a fundraiser at my house, feeding strangers, making a speech, and raising $500.  Not big bucks, but more than I could afford on my own.  I dragged my political soulmate Shelley with me to canvass a disenfranchised neighborhood in Seattle.  I bought buttons and gave them out, wore caps, bought "got hope" t-shirts for my son (who proudly and repeatedly wore them...even to school).  

But, mostly, I talked.  And talked.  And talked.  I talked to anyone who would listen.  I wore my buttons everywhere and found they were reliable conversation starters.  I would forget I had one on (b/c I always did) and was often taken by surprise on the street, in Costco, at the gas station, in the aisles of Thriftway.

It's no cliche:  people really are hungry, starving, for change.  They are weary of this democracy slipping down and away from them, disappearing for their children.  They're sick of hearing about the escapades of the rich and infamous when every brick in the foundation of their own lives is crumbling.  And three days ago, they came out in droves, unprecedented droves, and voted good-bye to the past and thank god you're here to the future.

We are fired up.  We are ready. to. go.

But today, I am actually reflecting on someone who belongs to the past and I sometimes forget to appreciate how unafraid she is of the future:  my mom.  My mom is 85 and change and she couldn't wait to vote for Obama.  She loves everything about him.  She loves his eloquence and his stature.  She loves his compassion.  She loves his wife and his little girls.  She loves his courage.  She loves his vision.  And, yes, she loves his color.

I'd forgotten or maybe not even really understood how truly amazing this was, and probably would not have had it brought home to me but for a timely (or untimely) trip my mom took to visit two of her three surviving siblings.  This was a very rare event.  My mom was raised in West Virginia, with all the bigotry and ignorance you might envision, but essentially ran screaming from the bosom of her family the first chance she got.  She married AND joined the marine corps to serve in WWII, making doubly-sure she'd not be mired in Appalachia a minute longer than absolutely necessary.

Of course, I knew all this, and I knew, although cannot truthfully say know, my relatives.  I have never been close to them, obviously given Mom's emotional and geographic distance.  But I completely failed to appreciate how little people can grow and learn over even a long and well-educated lifetime.  Mom's week of immersion with her sisters, just weeks before the presidential election, turned into a living nightmare for her and a illuminating lesson in human nature for me.

The TV on constantly, her sisters and their daughters, my cousins, hurled insults and epithets at the screen the likes of which I wouldn't dare to print here lest my words be lifted out of context.  Horrible, awful, violent words to describe this decent man who would become our next president.  Horrible awful violent suggestions of what should "be done."  Mom ended up reading in the bedroom for most of the visit.

Such fear.  Such rage.  Such pure cowardice.  Who are these people, my people, who so vehemently insist that all that is is theirs for the taking?  These petty, little minds who so fear the equality of others?  How can life be so fragile that the very sharing of it with those who are different would render it broken? 

Who thinks like this???

Well, not my mom.  Though she came from this clan, was raised in this hate-filled home, and taught the supremacy of her kind, she said yes instead of no.  She pulled away, pulled up, and wrote her own destiny - a destiny that eventually included world travel, many marriages, even more careers, and a long list of friends who were colorful in every way imaginable.  She all but turned her back on her family, ultimately sequestering her only daughter apart as well, and chose a path it seems her brothers and sisters could not even contemplate.

The racists and bigots of Appalachia will soon be gone.  They are thankfully a small and dwindling breed, a people who have already seen their best days because they cannot envision a future that is different from their past.  So, we don't really have to worry about them.  Instead, a moment to celebrate a woman who though most of her life is in the past, it has always been about the future. 

Thanks, mom, for taking me there.

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