I keep thinking of bridges, and links, and passages today.
I was born in 1961. Six months later, Barack Obama was born. This is the first time I am older than the President. I'm not sure how that makes me feel, as I have so many, many other feelings to process first.
Some of the most vivid memories of my childhood are tied up with the Civil Rights movement, seeing the news reports from the deep and not so deep south. My mother, who was very young herself, was dedicated to making sure I did not grow up with the prejudices of my grandparents. She worked diligently to make sure I understood that people were people, that there was wrong and oppression in the world and that I must keep that in my mind and work against it whenever I could.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, 40 years ago, I was old enough to know what it meant, how much it hurt, and how evil the act itself was. I was old enough to remember Jesse Jackson walking arm in arm with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders. I was old enough to remember the deaths and the injustices and the terrors. Through my youth and into adulthood that act of murderous cowardice influenced me, as Dr. King's courage and determination inspired me.
In 1984, Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for President for the first time. I admired the work he did with the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and other social justice efforts, so I voted for him. Not only did I vote for him, I voted for him in a public caucus in a small, dry county in West Texas, a place where the name of Lyndon Johnson was anathema because he had worked for and enacted civil rights laws. I voted for him defiantly, probably the only person in the county to do so. I voted for him with my newborn child in my arms and I whispered to her that someday it wouldn't matter what color the President's skin was. I wanted so much to believe that. I wasn't sure it would be true in a time that I could see it.
I cannot imagine what Rev. Jackson was feeling as he stood in Grant Park with a couple hundred thousand other people and the news came in that Barack Obama had been elected President. The camera returned to him a few times. He looked gray and shaken. Then the tears started. He wept openly, his hand over his mouth, tears falling down his cheeks in streams. Was he remembering Dr. King's words? Was he remembering walking arm in arm with him, remembering the hope, remembering the fear, remembering all the hard work they all did back in the '60s, that he continued working towards into the '70s, the '80s, up to today? Was he realizing that a great dream had begun to come true? I cried, at home, hugging my husband, talking to my daughter on the phone, and my emotions were overpowering. How does someone who lived that history firsthand experience the emotion of it without exploding with joy? How his heart must have swelled with pride and relief and happiness, knowing he'd been a part of what made all this possible. He has much to be proud of.
This is a tremendous time for America, and for the world. As I listened to President-Elect Obama's wonderful speech last night, I could not help but realize I was living history, in a moment that fulfilled the dream that was articulated 45 years ago.
We are not yet free, but the possibility of that freedom rings, indeed, from the voting booths and the rallies and the jubilant faces of the people all over the world last night. There is much work to do, not just in repairing the country, but in continuing the fight for true equality. One election does not, after all, propel us into a post-racist world. But it does shine a light on what is possible.
There is a mother and child who ride my bus in the mornings. He is probably about four years old. I looked at that child today and realized he will never remember a time when a black man could not become president in this country. I remembered whispering to my infant daughter all those years ago as I cast a futile vote and I looked at that child's happy, beautiful face and rejoiced, all over again.