Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Kennedy Effect

On a cerebral level, I’ve always understood the appeal President Kennedy had. I like the whole mythical Camelot thing. I get the celebrity of it, the glamour. I dig Jackie’s fabulous style. I am touched by the pictures of a little JFK jr. saluting his daddy’s coffin. But I’ve never really felt what having a milestone of a president like that was like for those who were there. I’d internally roll my eyes when ever someone got off on a reverence rant. He was just a man, after all.

Never in my memory was there a politician I personally cared for. I would have been sad if something happened to Clinton whom I’d always found good and likeable (in spite of). But I wouldn’t have felt a personal sense of loss. Caring for a politician like you would about a personal friend or family member? That just seemed hysterical to me.

I was walking my dog the day after the election, meandering and thinking out loud as I sometimes do. My heart swelled with hope and excitement. For the first time in a very long time I was proud of my country, proud to be an American. My friends from overseas gushed their support in a series of emails and I felt we were all part of something special. Almost as if we could feel Obama’s promised change in the air.

I thought of all the good things that will come in the next eight (yes, eight) years; social policy change, women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, foreign relations, war ends, financial improvement, health care reform – these are my hopes. I thought of the other good to come, blind spots that I cannot anticipate. I jigged in place and sang to my dog.

And then I got it. If Obama were suddenly taken from us and all that hope and shimmer and sun finally rising from the long, dark night were vanished, I understood on a visceral level the sense of personal loss I would feel. It choked me up for a moment. The crushing disappointment and sadness. I finally understood the impulse to go stand in line to salute a coffin for a man I’d never met. I felt a new understanding of the people who talk of Kennedy in reverent tones.

I sympathize with my relatives in Ireland who still have a portrait of Kennedy in the kitchen. I finally understand that their pride in a new hope was not an empty symbol but a real, tangible heart-swell.

I walked my dog home with a new pride in my heart and a sense of personally caring for a man I’ve never met. Yes, he’s just a man and he’ll make mistakes. But for the first time in my lifetime I feel like we have a real chance to make this country as wonderful as it deserves to be.

There are portraits of Obama going up in kitchens all over the world.

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