I continue to be inspired by Barack Obama’s words, especially his one-on-one, in-depth exchanges. I just ran across an interview he did with Chicago Sun Times columnist Cathleen Falsani in 2004. I am generally skeptical of anyone who claims to be a person of faith, particularly those who aspire to be our political leaders. But I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a politician give such a nuanced and understanding vision of faith than Obama does in this interview.
I was treated to a wonderful — if somewhat unexpected — conversation about politics last night with an old friend. The concept of nuance repeatedly weaved its way in and out of the discussion. Ever since I first became a supporter and vocal proponent of Barack Obama, I’ve held two of his qualities above all others: 1) his insistence that the solution to problems lies in all of us collectively and 2) his ability to understand the nuance and complexity of our national challenges.
This morning, Nicholas Kristoff’s New York Times op-ed “Obama and the War on Brains” examines the challenge of being an intellectual president throughout the history of America. Kristoff wonders if Obama’s election signals a shift in American anti-intellectualism. I have my doubts, simply because Obama’s victory is rooted more deeply in the GOP’s complicity in and inconsistent response to the economic crisis. But I am hopeful, like Kristoff, that perhaps the American public — at least the voting public — is more appreciative and accepting of a leader who does not see the world in black and white, but rather in its true shades of grey.
I sit here, a day removed from the raw and overwhelming emotion of watching Barack Obama’s victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park. Tears flowed freely from my eyes as he spoke, humbly accepting the mantle of president-elect. Our country’s prognosis was clearly written in the seriousness of his tone. Our country’s future reflected in the determination of his eyes. He spoke eloquently of our history, but it was his promise of the future that has been swimming continually in my thoughts:
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
Just today, an old college friend — a self-described conservative — asked me if I had played an official role in the Obama campaign. In a strict sense, I would have to answer in the negative. I did not organize, canvas, fundraise or perform any of the other activities generally considered official. Certainly, I took every opportunity to engage others in conversation about the importance of this election. But my efforts paled in comparison to the tirelessness of many that shared and fueled this campaign.
But then why did I feel like I owned part of this quest? Why did I make the transition from being politically aware to being politically active?
Simply, it is because I was invited to become part of the solution. Never before had a candidate for president stood before me an asked for more than my vote or financial contribution. Obama asked for much more — a commitment to be a part of this movement long after the last votes are cast.
In the hours since I cast my vote, I’ve been subject to statements like “you realize he’s not going to do everything he promised” and “nobody walks on water” by those who aim to temper my enthusiasm. There is nothing inherently wrong in these statements, but I believe they miss the point. I’ve never held the delusion that every campaign promise would be fulfilled or that Obama is some sort of national savior.
But just listen to his words — I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation — and how they resonate in contrast to the blind and unfounded arrogance of the past eight years.
blue sky mourning
the tumultuous night
today we join together
and say goodbye
in a world of churning selfishness
those rare commodities
that elate the soul
intoxicate to the core
leave yearning in their wake
I watched the movie Waitress last night, which incidentally is a very well-written movie, poignant on many levels. One scene was particularly powerful, between the main character (Jenna) and her boss (Cal).
Jenna: Cal, are you happy? I mean, when you call yourself a happy man, do you really mean it?
Cal: You ask a serious question, I’ll give you a serious answer: Happy enough. I don’t expect much. I don’t get much, I don’t give much. I generally enjoy whatever comes along. That’s my answer for you, summed up for your feminine consideration. I’m happy enough.
I’ve been running that scene around in my head since the movie ended. Is there such thing as happy enough? To me it seems that once you consider yourself happy enough, you become complacent and stop growing, learning and experiencing new things. Happy enough strikes me as stagnation. But at the same time if you’re never happy enough, do you continually feel unfulfilled?
I don’t think I’d ever settle for happy enough.
We’ve been lucky this year to have a robin build a nest right on our deck railing outside our living room window, nestled among the curling vines of a sweetautumn clematis. For the past few weeks we’ve anticipated the arrival of the chicks. On Saturday morning, they arrived.
It’s been a great experience to watch the wonder of new life and the dedication of the parents, but the most amazing thing happened this evening. My wife was peering out the window from our sofa, watching the babies stretch their tiny heads up for food. As I looked up, I saw something I’ve never seen before — my wife as a six-year old girl, full of wonder and excitement — the budding inquisitive scientist — a precursor to the woman I now know and love. For this alone, I’ll forever be indebted to the mother robin that chose our deck railing to start her new family.
Postcript: As I sat here writing this, a large hawk landed on the deck rail, looking for an evening snack. Thanks to the quick action of my wife, the chicks are still pleasantly snuggled in their nest.