Friday, November 14, 2008

From the darkness into the light

When I heard the news that Barack Hussein Obama had just been declared President-Elect of the United States of America, I was sitting on a bar stool at Uno's Grille in Swampscott, MA, next to a handsome brown-eyed stranger. I'd driven to Boston that night after arriving in the Hartford, CT airport after four days of volunteering for Obama in Virginia. A friend of mine from grad school had just been re-elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and she was throwing a re-election party at Uno's. I drove the two hours to toast her and to watch the election news in friendly company.

Lori had since taken off to go home and be with her husband and kids as the election results rolled in, and I was swilling beers with the friendly Democrats at the bar. Kevin, the stranger beside me, was a cartographer, I'd learned. Making maps of the world seemed like an appropriate profession right now as it seemed like the whole world was shifting before our eyes. Everything was changing.

Like the rest of the country, and much of the world, I was overcome with emotion at the news. Forty-five years ago Martin Luther King had delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, and here, now, all these years later, a man of mixed Caucasian and African descent stood before us, judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character as he was decisively elected the leader of the free world.

As the news rolled on, and as he delivered his speech, I couldn't stop crying. Kevin, my friendly neighboring cartographer, rubbed my back and told me how sweet it was that I was crying. It wasn't intentional, it wasn't planned, I just felt the waves of change coming, the magnitude of this historic moment, and what it could mean for the world. As a grad school friend of mine from Germany later expressed it, "The U.S. is moving from the darkness into the light."

From the darkness into the light. Is that what the world felt and responded to? The news showed crowds cheering in Africa, in Kenya where Obama's father was from, in Europe and South America and Central America and Asia. Everyone seemed to recognize that something amazing was happening.

The defeated candidate was gracious. The current sitting president was gracious. Everyone seemed to rise to the occasion in deference to this leader who clearly had inspired the people of the U.S. - enough to get out and vote in record numbers, enough to motivate thousands to register to vote for the first time.

Out of the darkness into the light. What is it about this man? It's more than the color of his skin or the fact that electing an African American man to this post is so historic. It's more about the light that shines from within him, his willingness to stand up and lead in tough times, and his ability to inspire others, to empower the people around him so that they feel they have a voice again.

The exultation in the room and around the world was palpable. For me it symbolized something more too, how we all seek in our lives to move from the darkness into the light, how we all want to stand for what we believe, believe that change is possible, and move in that direction. Too often in our own lives it can be easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae of life, and to feel as though in the broader strokes of our lives, the change and dreams we hope for may not all be realized in this lifetime. And yet we wake up each day to keep trying, to find out what is possible by being in action on our dreams.

When the nation collectively unites to stand for change, and to stand for what is possible, how amazing is that? How can we individually get discouraged when we are standing for all people, when love is what we are standing for?

I remain amazed and grateful to be alive during these historic times, and excited to see what changes are coming.

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