I’ll readily admit that I have not been Barack Obama’s greatest fan. I have had serious reservations about his qualifications to lead the free world in such complicated and tumultuous times. And there were other issues I have voiced which caused me to lean away from his election. However, a visit with a dear friend yesterday has brought a whole new appreciation to my conservative IrishAmerican mind.
Miss Jonny is a bright light in so many people’s day as she sits inside Walmart’s front door, smiling and greeting everyone who comes in and teasing and calling to everyone who leaves, “Have a blessed day!” If I ever noticed that Miss Jonny is black, I can’t remember, because her smile is so blinding it blocks out most of her face. My wife and Miss Jonny have become friends (as is typical with my outgoing wife), so we stopped by yesterday to say hello in our shopping stop on the way home. After the usual hugs and banter, Miss Jonny asked us what we thought of “her president Barack.” I said something general like, it will be interesting to see how he does in office. Miss Jonny’s eyes lit up and she said that she didn’t care much for how he did, just the fact that he was in was a blessing to her and to us all. Then I asked her why.
With soft eyes and a softer smile, she said, “I grew up with segregation, you know. I have been blessed in many ways, but I’ve had people look down on me because of my color, too. When my son took me to vote, I couldn’t hardly see to vote for the tears in my eyes. I kept thinking about my great-grandfather, my grandfather and grandmother, and my mama who didn’t live – who never dreamed to live to see this day. Mr. Obama’s election means that the young men in my culture have more hope to be part of this country we’ve helped build. Now, I ain’t angry with anybody for anything ever done to me, but it sure is nice to feel like I and my culture are a welcome part of our own home country.”
And suddenly I was able to understand the excitement felt by so many. Through Miss Jonny’s words (we talked for over an hour) I came to see that Obama was, to many Americans, more than just one man with some qualifications (shaky or not), and with a peculiar background, and a daunting job ahead. He is a representative of … well, darn it, hope and change. And while I hope he won’t change too many things I love about America, I can see that some important changes have been made.
Of course, things aren’t magically perfect in race relations. There is still prejudice to be dealt with. Humans are imperfect. But at least now we have a real opportunity, as a nation, to make the big changes we’ve, for some stupid reasons, hesitated to make. With one man’s election, we’ve said that we are, at least on a national level, beyond petty bigotry.
I’ll still be watching President Obama, and I’ll still be praying for him to succeed in leading our country. But now I’ll have a deeper reason to pray for his success. Because his success represents the growth of our national culture into much more of what our founding fathers alluded to as divine equality. It really does make me hopeful.
God bless America.