On Monday afternoon a day before the election, after placing Obama-Biden signs on doors in Northeast Philadelphia for nine hours, I sat down on a stranger's stoop, by myself, and cried.
It is hard to translate any feeling into words, but in this case--for the tears that I cried, like so many across this country in the last 24 hours--I feel it is important to try.
They were tears of exhaustion. I was exhausted on Monday, even though I would not say that my part in the Obama-Biden Get Out The Vote effort was anything to brag about. My two trips to Philadelphia from New York to help remind urban voters to get the polls were valuable, for sure. Appreciated, definitely. But my effort hovered near the bottom of the kind of selfless work I witnessed from people twice and half my age.
They were tears from feeling overwhelmed. As I walked around Philadelphia, the scale of the Obama-Biden campaign finally hit me. Tens of thousands of people walking door to door in thousands of neighborhoods across the country--in rain and shine, covering hundreds of thousands of miles of sidewalks and streets, over fallen leaves and fresh snow, together, alone, in groups. The scope of civic participation set in motion by the was, enormous.
They were tears of relief. After 232 years of incomplete equality, of dreams differed, of a nation that could not muster the courage to identify collectively with and stand beside a President whose skin was not white--we stood with our toes touching a milestone. 232 years of small steps, and we had but one more step to take to cross that threshold. In thinking about the path that so many generations had walked over so many decades to bring us to this point--I felt relief like no other time in my life.
They were tears for of triumph. Four years ago we watched as a political party fueled by division and a virulent strain of xenophobic nationalism drove the world to the edge of a cliff. Since then, so many people worked hard to pull it back to a safe place, but I did not really think it could happen so soon. Realizing that an Obama-Biden victory would soon give us, and the rest of the world, a chance for a new beginning brought a triumphant joy I had not felt for a long, long time.
They were tears of pride. To have been a part of the largest volunteer effort in any U.S. election ever--what an immense feeling of pride.
They were tears of regret, that so many people had given their energy, their lives, their hopes--and not lived long enough to see the day.
They were tears of anxiety and tears of wonder.
Tears for my teachers and for my students.
Tears for my wife, for my parents, for my grandparents, for my sister, for my brother, for my nieces, for my nephews, for my aunts, for my uncles.
Tears for my home, for my neighbors, for my city.
As I sat there on that stoop--the weight of canvassing leaflets in my knapsack digging into my shoulders--I realized that I was crying, perhaps for the first time in my life, tears for my country.
Tears for country are not just the product of millions of Americans looking at the significance of this day and responding. We cry because we feel no separation between ourselves and the significance of this day. We cry tears of happiness from within that moment without words when we feel overwhelmingly connected to something larger than ourselves.
Arthur Miller once wrote, reflecting on the challenge of conveying to audiences how the McCarthy era in our nation's history made Americans feel,"A drama cannot merely describe an emotion, it has to become that emotion" (Timebends, p. 331). The end of the Bush era with the Obama-Biden victory--despite all the ups and downs of a two-year campaign--has 'become that emotion' and when we cry thinking about it, they are tears not just for ourselves. They are tears for country.
What a wonderful starting point we all have--a starting point not so much given to us as it is pouring out of each and every one of us. And so we stand up from whatever stoop we found in the last 24 hours, brush the tears from our eyes, and start back down the tree-lined streets--yellow and orange leaves falling, our country ablaze again with possibility.
(cross posted from Frameshop)
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