The Other I

November 6, 2008

The day after the day after

I can’t stop yet.  Like thousands of others writing and talking about it in the media and private exchanges, I keep thinking about the election.  Here in England the papers are full of columns, reports, and predictions.  A barbershop in a black neighbourhood in Leeds stayed open all night because it got CNN so all the regulars just moved in until morning.  The people in our local store whom I’ve never spoken to are talking to me about Obama.  A neighbour came by simply to say congratulations.  My own mind is still whirling.

One of my more personal conundrums keeps returning.  Like so many others in America, my family has been riven in these last ten years by an almost insurmountable chasm.   It has been with great determination, and the salvation of significant distance that we have managed to stay on speaking terms.  But something broke among us.  The ease and delight of seeing each other that I had known for 50 years slowly drained away over rabid disagreements over which neither side could compromise.  We disagreed about gay rights and abortion, about the war, and the rightful separation of Church and State.  There were a whole array of topics which we dared not even mention.

By coincidence, the birthday of one of my brothers was Wednesday.  He had been an ardent supporter of Bush, and had already made it clear to all of us that we should now “vote our conscience” and support McCain.  As I watched the supporters at McCain’s headquarters listening to his concession speech, I knew how my brother must be feeling.  I knew from their faces, but I knew too because I remember the sense of devastation I’d felt four and eight years earlier.   And I wondered what I was going to say as I wished my brother a happy birthday.

I thought about it as I read Obama’s acceptance speech, in which he said again that Americans aren’t Blue and Red.  We are all Americans, whatever our political affilitation.  But he meant more than our politics.  He meant that with all our differences – black and white, Christian and non-Christian, male and female, liberal and conservative – we have something else in common that is more important than what separates us.  We are all Americans, all committed to justice and freedom and opportunity for all.

And as I read it, instead of feeling a kind of angry triumph that this time “our side” had won, I felt enlightened.  What Obama is saying, and what he demonstrated throughout the campaign, is that we have so much of value that we share.  The differences, I think, were exploited and exacerbated by Bush & Co.  They deliberately used the “values war” to gain more votes.  And in fighting them, I – and many like me who joined the “other side” – helped solidify these two sides, shouting at each other across the abyss. 

What Obama is saying is not that we should stop being different, or that one “side” can now stand victorious over the defeated.  But that we should concentrate on those values we share, the great and wonderful things we have in common.  Now is the time to build bridges, and to walk across those that others build to us.

And so I sent my brother a birthday wish, remembering those things that are important to us both and that we share with a depth and passion that goes back to our familial roots.

He wrote back today, saying “yes, we can!”

Well, words to that effect.

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