Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A historic night

There are a few days in my life that I think of as watershed moments.
I can usually tell them by the feeling of almost surreal amazement that accompanies them.  I have three...

The first, when I was very young, was watching a man step out onto the lunar soil.  The idea that, not only was there a  man on the moon, but that I was *watching* the moon.  That I could see into space and onto another world, was an amazing thing.  A good sort of amazement.

The second was when the Space Shuttle columbia exploded.  I was in college and walking past our student union cafeteria which had one of those early monster-sized big screen projection TVs.  I stood there and watched the footage in utter disbelief.  Such things happened in books and movies, not in real life and I could not get over the weird feeling that I was watching some movie and not reality.  That was a bad sort of amazement.

The third was tonight, when a man with a black father and white mother, and a face America calls Afro-american, became our next president.  I wanted to believe it was possible, but I am still absorbing the fact that it is reality.  This, again, is a good sort of amazement.  Its the kind of miracle that brings with it a renewl of faith.  In this case a very secular miracle and a very secualr renewel of faith, to whit my faith in the American people and our system of government.  A faith particualrly sorely tested, and found somewhat lacking, these last four years.

The thing about parents is that, if they are good ones, they are always older and often wiser for it.  They've seen the cycles of the world and how it turns and have the hindsight to recognize it coming around again.  When I had all but lost my faith in this country, was convicned that the police state it had become under the administrationof George W Bush was going to be a permenant fact of life in America, mine told me not to give up.  That when the people really come together they *can* change things in this country.

Well, they were right and tonight proved it.  I suppose every cloud has a silver lining, and if a President Obama is the silver lining of having had a President Bush the past 8 years, maybe it was all worth it. 

But as I think about this amazing turn of events, I also find myself thinking about how we got here, and what my parents and others of their generation did to make it possible.  Because this didn't just happen because the American people are sick of what has been done with our government the past 8 years.  It also happened because we live in an America where it *could* happen.

There will likely be a lot of talk in the coming weeks of Dr. Martin Luther King, and there is no doubt that he was very important in getting us to where we are.  But there are a lot of other people we owe a debt of grattitude to.  People who risked abuse, pain, torture and even death to oppose an unjust way of life.  People without names we will ever know.  People of my parents generation.

Barak Obama is an amazing man, of any skin tone.  A politician the likes of which I don't think I've seen in my lifetime. The analogy I keep coming back to is the stories I've heard of how people responded to JFK.  He has that kind of leadership.  And i have no doubt that it took such a man to cross this line.  But when I think about him, and what my generation has to be thankful for, I am reminded of a famous quote of another man history remebers.  Sir Isaac Newton who said:

"If I have been able to see further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."

To those whose shoulders we all stand on today, you know who you are, and thank you.  If not for you, none of this could have happened.