My country, my lifetime

Having voted in this past election while a resident of Los Angeles, and while living among many African American neighbors, today felt a bit strange to watch the inaugural events in a very different kind of community and context. I am sure the day was significant for many around here, but apart from my Facebook updates and one friend who brought by some free Krispy Kreme doughnuts that were being passed out today, I just didn’t feel that same sense of energy and import to the days events.

I was grateful for Maurice Broaddus’ reflections posted on his blog, attempting to describe for someone the scope of significance held in what took place today. He writes:

I watched an old black woman laughing. Crying. Laughing and crying and saying joyfully “I’m glad I lived long enough to see this! Oh God! I’m glad I lived long enough to see this!”

They looked like people taking their first breath and really enjoying it. I didn’t see the haggard, submissive expression. I saw enthusiastic joy, free from restraint. If you saw it, if you heard it, there’s no way that a human being couldn’t be touched by it. How many people last night and this morning took their first real breath?

A friend of mine recently commented that she’s “just a white girl from a small town” but she just doesn’t get the near-messianic expectation surrounding Barack Obama being black and elected. Not why people broke down and cried, not why folks danced in the streets, or stayed up so late. Or why my cell phone blew up election night as every black person in my directory called or got called, all sharing a similar refrain. It boiled down to four words “not in my lifetime”…

No, President Barack Obama won’t redeem white people from the sin of racism (or whatever else some folks might imagine the import of his election might mean). But he represents a beacon of hope and the promise of change. His election might portend a true shift in our culture and how we see and treat one another. That is the root of the expectation: the hope of a better tomorrow in light of our many tragic yesterdays. Something many of us never thought we’d see in our lifetimes.

On election day, we lived in a community that cried and danced and shouted in the streets. I missed that today. I wept this past weekend watching a random video Scot McKnight posted of the Obamas going to church on Sunday at a historic black congregation in Washington, D.C. I was overcome by emotion as I saw them shaking hands with fellow parishioners as they made their way out of the sanctuary, for some reason feeling this very great and real and earthy context for the significance of Obama’s election.

We heard enough about “the Black church” during some tense weeks of the campaign, and we often quote the line about Sundays being the most segregated hour in America, but somehow seeing the Obama family there, surrounded by an all-black congregation, seeing them pass through parishoners hoping for a hand shake, something about that grounded the magnitude of his election beyond Facebook frenzy and cool Obama posters and into wooden pews and fancy hats and a choir of children’s voices. And it just felt so very intense and real. And I was overcome by awe at what I too had dared to hope to ever see in my lifetime.

5 thoughts on “My country, my lifetime”

  1. “I watched an old black woman laughing. Crying. Laughing and crying and saying joyfully “I’m glad I lived long enough to see this! Oh God! I’m glad I lived long enough to see this!”

    I’ve gotten so tired of people groaning at what they perceive as the Messiah-hood of this presidency.

    The thing is, not he himself, but the events that have lead to this moment, their timing and their weight, and the prophetic calling that has preceded this day, do mean a certain kind of salvation for many citizens of America. If we forget this we become very cold inside.

    Awesome post.

  2. My friend Matt just shared this experience via twitter, and I just had to share it too ;)

    There is an old Asian man on my bus carefully handing out origami
    cranes made from The Stranger, saying only “Obama.” God bless America.

  3. Hey Erika,

    The shift of excitement is similar here in Canada too. In our neighbourhood, largely First Nations & African/Caribbean, there is a tangible excitement (though clearly not as strong as it is in the US), while outside there is still excitement, but it is far less personal. Great post!

    Peace,
    Jamie

  4. Erika,
    Thanks for sharing this. Good words for me, and important reminder that there’s just no way I can really enter into what our African-American neighbors are experiencing now. I know that in my head, yet try somehow to imagine myself in their shoes. But that’s really impossible.

    So I take it we’re to rejoice with them, and see and pray for the apparent good this can bring for our nation.

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