Youth is wasted on the young, or maybe not

Not a shocker that I can’t get my mind off the election today. Every single last person I know is fixated on it. I haven’t met ONE SINGLE PERSON yet today who hasn’t voted… I waited until AFTER my daughter’s school was over and AFTER her skating lesson, so I could take her with me. I seriously was probably the last person I know to vote, and I was there just before 4:00 p.m.  No out-the-door lines in my neck of the woods — everyone I know had already voted, either earlier today or as part of early voting.

Have you ever seen this kind of political excitement (outside DC metro)? This level of engagement? Even my daughter had voted before me — apparently her elementary school elected Obama over McCain. My daughter didn’t want to come with me to vote, noting this school-day election. She had so been there and done that. I actually had to insist bribe her (with a bag of pretzels). I told her that one day, years from now, regardless of the outcome, she would (probably only privately) thank me because she would be able to tell her friends she was with me on this day. Turns out, she was pretty enthralled.

And of course, as I do each and every time I vote, I got teary-eyed. And a lump in the throat. No, I’m not making that up. I have NEVER, EVER voted in any official election without getting teary-eyed.  We have THE GREATEST country in the world, even though we are probably as dysfunctional as any other. I believe in our underlying constitutional infrastructure. I will attest to the undefeatable spirit of the American people to engender the change needed to … eventually… fix what isn’t great. 

Most of all, I take pride in our cultural and social evolution that has gotten us to this point: a day where our major Presidential candidates are a 72-year old white military man whose VP running mate is a woman and a young, bi-racial pulled-up-by-his-own-bootstraps community organizer/lawyer/statesman.

I am not an old woman. I’m not even technically middle-age, though I feel it fast approaching. Yet, honestly, I didn’t necessarily think I would ever see this day where this could happen IN THE SAME PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.

And that’s probably why I was a just a little more teary-eyed than usual today. For a moment driving to the polling station, I thought about what it must be like to be an 18 year old today, or a 19, 20 or 21 year old. Someone who never before voted in a Presidential election. These kids (yes, kids) have memories of previous elections, of their parents’ emotions or indifference and most will have meaningful memories of the 2000 debacle/confusion/chaos in addition to what is in their history books. 

Yet, I wonder, I truly wonder if they can know how historic this is? It reminds me that the stories of the Jim Crow South, the enormous civil rights injustices there and the voting obstacles faced by good, honest citizens who happened to be African American are to me just stories, movies and parts of my long-ago history major courses. It is hard to get my arms around the real struggle, the charged emotions, the sacrifices made, the baby steps taken that seemed earth shattering at the time, the actual blood, sweat and tears of that era. And, earlier this election season I was shocked when reminded how recent was women’s right to vote. There are actually people who remember that too — and the similar obstacles, beatings, shame and blood, sweat and tears.

There is no underestimating what even the tiniest of incremental advances can do for us as a country many years later. It is so important that people see progress as positive change and not mourn the passing of what we once were. Change is good, even when it doesn’t look exactly like what we’re used to.  We gain some things, and we also lose some. But usually, mostly, hopefully, we gain.

That is why I hope these first-time voters truly comprehend just how momentous this election is, since they never actually got to do this before anyway. Oh, and those 17 year olds. How agonizing to just miss out!

This isn’t just about firsts. This is about acceptance of ALL AMERICANS into the leadership fabric of our country.  This is about the train having left the station. This is about who is on board.

Is there still racial disparity and injustice in America? Oh, yes. Is there still gender bias? Uh huh. Are there still stupid people, evil people, short-sighted people and self-centered people who will vote solely on what helps them profit or insulate them from change? Of course. And this election isn’t going to change that.

That’s up to us, what we do today and what we all do next.

But, oh what a milestone in that long, long race. God Bless America.

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November 4, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Happily ever after comes first

I’m in San Antonio tonight. As I walked the Riverwalk before dinner, I saw a young couple across the water — 20-somethings enjoying a night, holding hands, strolling the river. Despite the unfortunate outfit she wore (black tank, studded belt, daisy duke denim shorts, black knee highs and converse sneakers — a look she’ll surely look back on and wonder what the fashion gods to which she is a slave were thinking) I couldn’t help smiling, thinking that things are always easy in the beginning of new ventures.

A few moments later, an old friend in a new relationship proceeded to put my marriage and life on a pedestal in the way only a single girlfriend can.  She is excited, yet tentative about her new guy…  Yet, she’s recently  been thrown for a loop by the divorce of friends she thought were the real deal, and it’s made her wonder.  I tell her that, though I’m loving watching it, I laugh at people like DeAnna on the Bachelorette who keep saying she’s looking for the dream, the happily ever after — focus on the fact you’re happy and stop defining the end goal.

When we hang up, I sit watching Hillary Rodham Clinton and then Barack Obama speak on the night he clinches the Democratic party nomination delegate count. I think of how engaged people are this year, and despite our different opinions, it is an amazing, nascent moment in history that we are witnessing tonight as I write this:  The nomination of a candidate for President of the U.S. by a major political party who is not a middle-aged or older White male. 

Then, (between tears and occasional sobs – I can’t believe this day has come, and I miss the people who can’t see it) I see a story on MSNBC.com that Mel Ferrer, a major movie star and director of the mid-1900s (was married to Audrey Hepburn and starred in major blockbusters of the day) had passed away in a “convalescent home.” This gave me pause — this guy was the Kevin Costner or Ben Affleck of his day — and most people won’t notice that he’s died or done so in a nursing home.

What do all of these have in common?  They remind us that “Happily Ever After” comes first. 

How strange that fairy tale writers wrote it otherwise. The carefree, happy moments are always first… then happiness comes when you roll up your sleeves and work at it.

The strolls down riverwalks, the bachelorette declaring her “dream come true”, the honeymoon; the amazing, breathtaking moments of oration, the glorified hearthrob limelight – all so often occur in early enthralling days.  The easy parts of all of our lives, our relationships, our jobs, our celebrity-pedestal-placing, our elections come early on, even when they don’t seem easy at the time. Life takes work, marriage takes work, work takes work, leadership at all levels takes work… and our adoration of all of those lead to nothing if the work doesn’t happen.

I hope as we enter an historic and engaging election season, for once, we see Happily Ever After last,  but I expect it will take a lot of work.

June 4, 2008. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.