The above quote, often attributed to Voltaire, seems appropriate to me right now, considering some of the response to Barack Obama's historic victory. Actually, Voltaire never said those exact words. They represent more an epitome of his thought. Something he actually did write in A Treatise on Toleration, which I think is as apropos is...
"Not only is it extremely cruel to persecute in this brief life those who do not think the way we do, but I do not know if it might be too presumptuous to declare their eternal damnation. It seems to me that it does not pertain to the atoms of the moment, such as we are, to anticipate the decrees of the Creator."
For a slightly different perspective on Tuesday's events, read Kent's thoughts.
addendum: Ooooh! Writing today's post revived my interest in Voltaire's writings. I was curious to know why that oft quoted statement was ever attributed to him in the first place. Then I found the following from one of his letters.
Monsieur l'abbe, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.
I just love a mystery solved!
When I awoke this morning I asked Kent, "Is it true?" He replied, "It's true, baby." And thus began a new day for me and for our country. Needless to say, I'm ecstatic. But if I dig beneath the joy and exhiliration of last night's events, there are many more emotions roiling within.
When I decided to post those Obama images on this blog, I knew it would probably not sit well with some. After all, not everyone agrees with my politics. And true enough, some readers have chosen to discontinue their subscriptions to this blog as a result. But instead of gloating about this victory, I feel compassion for the many Americans who, like that reader, supported John McCain. I know how it feels to lose an election you feel is of the utmost importance to the future of this nation. I've felt that way for the last eight years.
The Republicans I know personally are no different from me in that they are doing the best they can to be the best people they know how to be from day to day. They love their families, as I do mine. They worry about the future of this country, as I do. And they sincerely want our nation to continue to be a beacon of hope and justice for the world. The only thing that makes us different is our views about the best way to get to our shared dream. So I choose to believe that we still have more in common than not.
Last night I witnessed an event I never thought would happen in my lifetime. America's first African-American president was swept to victory on an enormous wave of hope, determination, love, support and patriotism by Americans from all walks of life...all races and religions...all ages. As an American, I voted for Barack Obama because I believe in his policies and his ability to rally a divided country and reunite us around a single shared love for this country. As an African-American, I am humbled and filled with so much pride in this man and this country that it overflows.
You see, I am a child of the segregated South. Growing up in Florida, I can still remember as a small child (perhaps around the same age as Sasha, Barack's youngest daughter) my mother grabbing my hand and pulling me away from a "Whites Only" drinking fountain inside the J.C. Penney store in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. I didn't understand...I only wanted a drink. But, as a mother, I can imagine her fear that someone might see her small girl child quenching her thirst at that particular fountain. I can remember later, as a teenager, finally being able to lunch at the counter in Woolworth's, the store that happened to be right next door to that J.C. Penney's.
I can remember us driving from Florida to Buffalo, NY non-stop until we reached Washington, DC to stay with family and rest before we continued our trip. You see, no hotels or motels would allow our family to rest our heads on their beds or wash the grime of the road from our bodies in their showers. I can remember my mother carrying a "pee jar" for my little brother in case he couldn't "hold it" until we reached a rest area that would allow us to use their public facilities. And I can remember the excitement of train travel when, as a child, I waited with my family in the "Colored" waiting area, oblivious to the fact that we were living in this country in apartheid...because it was the only reality I had ever known.
I can remember sitting at desks with names and drawings scratched into them and learning from books that were dog-eared with pages missing, worn from years of use. They'd been handed down from white schools for the "colored" schools to use. I did not receive a new text book or sit at a clean desk until I was in high school. For me Jim Crow is not just history, it was my life...my memory.
And finally, I can remember Rutledge Pearson, my Civics teacher and Kent's uncle, teaching us about how our government works and why it's so important to engage. I can remember the hard work he did as president of the state NAACP chapter. I remember the picket lines, sit-ins and voter registration drives. And I remember the tragic news that he'd died in a suspicious car accident as he traveled, alone, to Memphis to organize laundry workers. This was part of the same struggle that brought Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis and his assassination.
So you see, I don't take my right to vote lightly because I also remember the day President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into the law of the land and handed Martin Luther King, Jr. the signing pen. As we are all proud of our military who have fought to keep our country free, I am proud of the soldiers of the Civil Rights struggle who gave so much so our country could live up to its promise and guarantee its liberties to all its citizens.
"The struggle, the suffering, the pain and everything that we tried to do to create a more perfect union ... it was worth it."
So today, I am doubly proud of my country. I'm proud because I believe we overwhelmingly elected the best man for the job of President of the United States of America. And I am proud because he stands on the shoulders of so many who struggled and even died for the opportunity he humbly claimed last night. And to those of you who are feeling the sting of defeat this morning, I only hope that you can rejoice in the historic page we turned yesterday. It speaks volumes about our country to the world.
As I am writing this, I just received an iChat ping to video chat with my youngest son, Matthew. He is of this new generation of Americans...the ones we like to call, "post-racial." He said to me:
"This whole Democrat-Republican thing is about to become extinct. It's gonna be a whole new way now. A whole new generation! And he [Barack] was serious last night, he's ready to go to work."
I don't know if that's true, yet, about the political parties, but I do know that believing is the first step in making it true. And one thing's for sure...for my son and for all Americans, it's the dawn of a new era.
God bless the United States of America.