Finding the Right Words
November 6, 2008
On Tuesday night, as I worked on this Margaret sweater, I thought about my sister-in-law Mary Neal, who designed this sweater for our book. She was texting me from Grant Park in Chicago, telling us about the crowd and the energy and which Jumbotron she was near, and I thought about the words I’m supposed to be figuring out to chain-stitch on this sweater. I realized that the words were going to come along before too long, and it was going to be a good sweater.
Sorry to be out of touch the past few days, but I’ve been BIZZY.
Busy talking on the phone to voters in parts of Tennessee I’ve never visited and having the most incredible conversations that followed the question I was told to ask in my script: “How are you doing today?”
If you ask, people will tell you about their fall-downs, their breakups, and the miserable son-in-law who took off with the car so now she can’t go vote. I know a lot about one woman’s three jobs all of which she hates and the health insurance that she does not have.
I’ve been very busy watching TV, and extremely busy zoning out and considering where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.
It’s extraordinary, this election of Barack Obama. I think a lot of us who live in the south find it especially gratifying. But as much as I celebrate the fact that our country has managed to elect its first African-American president, I have to say: my elation has more to do with the fact that we’ve just elected a writer.
I’m no presidential historian–maybe Millard Fillmore was good with a quill, I don’t know–but I can say with certainty that we have not had a writer in the Oval Office during my lifetime. Obama has given many speeches in the last two years, but none more elegant, appropriate, and spare than the one he gave on Tuesday night. Anybody who accuses Obama of demagoguery needs to go hear how he addressed his supporters in Grant Park. There’s none of that in what he said. It was sober stuff. (Text here.) I think it sets the tone for the months ahead. This is no picnic we’re heading toward. There’s no easy fix to be found.
This victory alone is not the change we seek — it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers — in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.
I keep thinking about one of the voters I contacted in Hardin County, a rural part of the state that went 71%-28% for McCain. This guy, who sounded about 400 years old, had already voted for Obama, and he was remarkably cheerful. “I’m praying like heck for the guy. We all are. He’s what we need.”
I also had conversations with McCain supporters, one of whom reminded me that there wasn’t an Obama sign to be seen in all of Hardin County.
On the eve of the election, I got an email from Cat Bordhi. She sent along her thoughts about the knitted Moebius and the way it makes a sort of symbolic knitting as we work to overcome our divisions. Here’s her meditation. She writes:
The Moebius appears to have two surfaces and two edges–i.e., polarities such as black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, Republican and Democrat–but when you follow the surface around you will run right into your starting point without ever having changed to the other “side.” For there isn’t one. Everything flows into itself. Polarities are an illusion. What lies beneath the apparent polarities is oneness, beauty, and grace. In a Moebius you can see it, hold it, be awed by it. Once the frenzy dies down, hopefully those with opposing views will slowly rediscover their common
As I listened on Tuesday night, I heard Obama expressing those same thoughts:
While the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”