My wife, Julia, and I have supported Barack Obama since March of 2007. We have maxed out in contributions, passed out buttons, worn Obama 08 baseball caps, campaigned door to door, and put signs in our windows. So at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, we came home after visiting friends.
We turned on TV and it looked good for our candidate as the countdown to 11:00 p.m. EST began. We knew the polls would be closed on the West Coast and that a winner would be announced any minute. I was prepared for what would happen in the election, but was unprepared for my own reaction. A few moments after 11:00 p.m. MSNBC projected the winner, and I began to weep uncontrollably. I can't remember ever crying so hard.
I called one of my best friends and was barely able to mutter through the tears, "We did it. America did it. I'm so proud of my country and so grateful that I lived long enough to see this election." The MSNC cameras swept the ecstatic crowd in Grant Park in Chicago -- young people of all colors were jumping and yelling, but older people were subdued, calm ... and weeping.
I started to dry up, but as the camera stopped panning and slowly zoomed in on Jesse Jackson standing tall in the crowd silently weeping, I welled up and Old Faithful erupted again. Jesse Jackson wasn't smiling, he wasn't jumping with joy; he was just crying. The camera panned to Oprah. Her head was tilted to one side, resting on her arm. She was crying, too. Old Faithful erupted again.
The valiant civil rights hero, Congressman John Lewis, was interviewed. When he was asked how he felt when he heard Obama was proclaimed the winner, he said, "I wept." A story on the front page of the New York Times Web site told of a young white man in Pennsylvania who said that he wept when he heard the news of Obama's election.
Why was so many people's response to this joyous news to cry? Certainly not sadness. Were they tears of joy? Perhaps. I think the tears were a release of multiple and unspoken emotions that were unique to each person who wept. We can never know the depth of emotion of Jesse Jackson, who kneeled over the dead body of Martin Luther King in Memphis. And we probably can't define our own emotions - too complex, too much history, too much gratitude, too much of a release, and too much hope finally fulfilled.
As I watched John McCain's gracious concession speech, there was weeping in his crowd, too, and rightfully so. He was a courageous warrior and deserved some tears.
As I watched MSNBC, I'm convinced I saw Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews well up. If professional TV personalities and anchors can't suck it up, then no one can -- and few could on election night. It was a night of tears that will hopefully wash away our sins of racism and float in an era of equality... and they did at least for one wet night.