A Night We’ll Always Remember

Hope and I are yoga pals, but we talk about everything before and after classes.  Several months ago, when the Democrats began their primary battles, I told her I was supporting Obama.

She looked at me skeptically.  “I’m supporting Hillary,” she said.  “This country isn’t ready to elect a black man president.”

Like many of Hope’s pronouncements, this was like a sharp slap to the face.  She has that kind of force to her.  I should also mention that Hope is black and that some part of me wanted her to appreciate that I was so enlightened I was supporting a black man.  Not because he was black, but because he was the best candidate.

If I wanted her approval, though, I didn’t get it.  “You’re wasting your vote,” she said.

The months passed.  After Hope finally stopped bellyaching about Hillary’s loss, she became an ardent Obama supporter and we stopped arguing in yoga.

Then, November 4 and Obama’s victory.  Maybe, as many have said, it took a confluence of events, a perfect storm, for America to elect a black man president.  A shattered economy, a failed Republican presidency, a lingering, unjustified foreign war, and a brilliant, charismatic candidate who ran a superb campaign.  Oh, and let’s not forget, Sarah Palin and John McCain.  Maybe it took all that for this country to overlook race and vote for a candidate with a strange name and exotic background.

I’m not sure it matters that Obama’s election required a perfect storm.  When you break barriers as immense as this, does it matter how you got there?  I think the forward momentum and the surmounting of age-old prejudices are what are important, are what will shape us for years to come and change us forever — and not how we somehow, accidentally or coincidentally, managed to get there.

In the meantime, we ended up at our house last night, with Hope, who’s a professional singer, belting out “O Happy Day!” while the rest of us tried to sing backup to her soaring, happy voice.

“Remember what you said months ago — that this country wasn’t ready to elect a black man?” I asked Hope later.  “You were wrong.”

“I was wrong,” she said.  “I’m so glad I was wrong.”

“Isn’t it wonderful,” one of our other friends said, “when this country gets something right?”

Yeah, it’s damned wonderful.  O Happy Day.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

5 comments… add one
  • I thought exactly what your friend thought — that America wasn’t ready to elect a black President.  I also thought (and think) that Hillary would have made a great President, and I still think that mixed with the joy of yesterday there is also loss.

    I watched the election coverage in England with my ex husband, two kids and all satellite mod cons.  Even at 2.30am GMT, when the result was clear, I couldn’t bring myself to pack up and go home to bed because the networks wouldn’t formally call the election until 4am, when the polls closed on the west coast.  I wanted to be awake and watching that moment. I don’t think my son really understood my tears when the result was formally announced, but my ex husband did.  An ocean away, he was also part of a generation that was horrified by the KKK and scarred by the assassination of Martin Luther King. He’s a creaky guy with bad knees, but once upon a time he too had marched and shouted ‘Free Mandela!’  We saw that too.  And now this.

    It was still dark when I parked my car in front of my house in rural Oxfordshire.  The radio was urgent.  Obama was about to speak, and I didn’t want to miss a word.  I fumbled with my keys at the door.  A cock crowed.

    Oh, happy day!

  • ps I wasn’t kidding.  A cock really did crow.  My neighbour has a dozen or so and they can be counted on to punctuate any significant moment you like.

  • Was so wonderful
    I collapsed in exhausted
    heap — oh happy day.


  • Well my dear, as always, you have succeeded in making me either laugh or cry. In this instance, it was tears rather than laughter; tears of joy.  Last night, as Obama was speaking, all this raw emotion poured out of me and spilled onto my blog. I hope you will take a moment to read it, since I know we are of like minds with regard to this election, and I so want to share what I wrote:

  • It was a tremendous evening (apart from Prop 8).

    My only disappointment that the election is over, is that I will miss your rants on the subject.  I’ve been laughing out loud and can’t decide which I like to join you for more – your Tuesday lunches or your yoga class!

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