Posted by: Amie | November 16, 2008

In a Moment of Hope

Though I had worked the Obama campaign and was heavily encouraged to vote early (as I was telling others to do the same), I felt like there was something patriotic and symbolic about waiting in a long line on Election Day. I gathered up my things and my five-months pregnant self and headed out to my polling place. While in line I was engaged in conversation by an older gentleman. By older I’m being polite; he was much older than my own grandpa and I was surprised he had the stamina to stand for such a long period. He was dressed in a retired veteran’s garb: a hat denoting his retired rank and tours of duty along with a jacket with patches that told the same and American flags on either shoulder. On his wrist he had a shiny metal POW bracelet right next to his diabetic alert tag.

“Who are you voting for?” he leaned in and asked me.

Being from a Republican town in a ferociously “red” state, I learned early (from painful experience) to not reveal my leftist political tendencies in public unless I was ready for a heated debate.

“Well, sir, the beauty of our election system is I don’t have to tell,” I smiled.

“Ohhhh, well, you are a pistol, aren’t you?” He chuckled and fought off a coughing spell. “Well, I’m voting for Obama. Yeah, I know. Why would an old guy like me not go for the war hero? He just doesn’t represent me, or what I need, you know?”

He went on to tell me about the hard labor he had endured after the war to build a family and keep them comfortable. He told me how he had taken a job selling gas tanks and how, after nearly 25 years of experience, one had exploded on his shift and he inhaled flames. While he, his family, and his doctors were surprised and thankful he had made it out alive, he was left with 20% lung capacity and a heap of medical bills that, to this day he is unable to pay.

“Now my wife is sick and her insurance isn’t paying all her bills. We’ve spent $250,000 at Mayo Clinic trying to get her help, and we’re scared we’re going to lose our house. Our daughters – all grown and married now – are now helping us pay for our bills. Is this any way to spend the “golden years?” I’m voting for Obama. We just need a little hope.”

When he had finished his story, it was my time for me to step into the booth. Moments of my own past few years flickered quickly though my mind: Listening to my grandmother on the phone fighting the insurance company for my recently deceased grandfather’s hospital bills. Hugging my roommate and friend as she was deployed for Iraq. Watching my cousin kiss his week-old baby girl goodbye as he suited up for his third tour in the Middle East .The day my manager told me my dream-job was no more as our company had gone under due to economic stress. The last time I closed our front door when my husband and I moved out of the home we had lost. I wished the veteran well, and with more conviction than ever, I cast my ballot.

I sat that night in my friend’s living room with an inability to shift my eyes from MSNBC. Several of the states on the screen began springing up red and I gripped the arm of the couch to steady myself as I winced in suspense. All the analysts and pundits became a blur as they projected here, called it there and whizzed digital maps across the screen. Pennsylvania turned blue. Then Ohio. While the room when up in a raucous of laughter and claps, I have to admit I sat quietly in near disbelief.  Yes, we did.

Live shots from Harlem and Grant Park showed people huddled in masses holding each other and some with tears streaming down their faces in a manner that strangely resembled scenes from December 31st, 1999. Never in my or many others’ lifetime did we see such a celebration of an elected president.

I sipped my sparkling grape juice after a toast and we soberly watched John McCain give his concession speech. There he was, all of his fiery “fight” burned out as he spoke about his intention to support Barack Obama in his presidency. His words were greeted with loud boos from the crowd, and he grimaced and raised his hands to stifle the sound.

I couldn’t understand why. After all, wasn’t he the same John McCain who smiled and reveled in the loud, guttural voices of disdain for Obama at his rallies? What did he expect to hear? McCain, his running mate and several members of his party had spent months teaching supporters hatred, fear, disrespect and to become a true war hero’s personal enemies: sunshine patriots.

When the President-Elect stood in the bright lights at Grant Park and spoke of his opponent, in stark contrast to Arizona, his words were met with cheers. When his rally booed the mention of John McCain in Pennsylvania days before the election, he responded, “You don’t need to boo; just vote.” And we did.

With all the negative campaigning, the calls to McCarthyism from Michelle Bachmann, the “real” Virginia and “real” America nonsense from Nancy Pfotenhauer and Sarah Palin respectively, the folksy and rather patronizing and misleading speech, the ridiculous notion of Joe the Plumber, the racist and xenophobic conversations that took place in the GOP, the Bush Administration as a whole and along with all the other blows that America has taken, badly battered and bruised she finally spoke up for herself. We the people had eight, long years to feel the burn and learn the lesson of making a decision based on hate and fear. We were unwilling to stick our hands in the flames again.

I watched people in Chicago hugging and celebrating. I saw tears in Jesse Jackson’s eyes. I thought of the veteran, my retiree grandparents, my husband and my growing baby in my belly and what the future held for us all. Was the worst over? Probably not. But it was a new beginning full of great expectations and a feeling of hope that we hadn’t felt, as nation, in so long.

I couldn’t help but let the warm tears roll down my cheeks as for the first time I had pride in my heart for my country. It wasn’t because we had defeated an evil regime or some other heroic feat. It was because I felt we had set our differences, our loyalties and perhaps our preferences and comforts aside to finally do the right thing.

My phone flashed repeatedly as text messages from friends all over the country and overseas sent their congratulations. I took a deep breath (the first I was able to catch all evening), bid my friends farewell, and drove home where my husband met me at the door. We hugged and walked inside to drink the rest of the sparkling grape juice in celebration. We spent the rest of the evening watching repeated clips from Grant Park, and went to sleep a restful sleep with hope for a good morning.






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Responses

  1. 🙂 Thanks for that…

  2. you made me cry.

    Can I post this on my blog? (of course linked to you as the author)


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