Friday, January 23, 2009

We the People

Inauguration morning began for me in the soft darkness of dawn when my nephew dropped 6 of us off on the Virginia side of the Potomac. Our breath puffing out in clouds, our muffled footsteps the only noise, we walked on a pathway between the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. It seemed fitting. The headstones of the young men, most no older than our three sons, served as a reminder of the price that has been paid throughout the years so that we could be doing exactly what we were doing. We were about to witness and celebrate the exchange of power -- an exchange that had come about peacefully. An exchange that we were all responsible for.

My eyes were wet from more than just the cold.

We crossed Memorial Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial in front of us, the sun rising behind it. The enormity of the day, of the change that had come, pulled us forward.

By 7:30, my husband and I were in place on the Mall, midway between the Washington Memorial and the Capitol.

I'd wondered how we'd while away the time until the ceremony began four hours later, but I had no need to worry. On the Jumbotron in front of us, the "We Are One" HBO concert from Sunday afternoon was being shown. So we danced ("Shout" with Garth Brooks) and sang (with Stevie and Usher and Shakira) and cried (Springsteen's "The Rising" with a gospel choir). The spirit of celebration and change and hope filled the crowd.

And then it all began.

by Judy Merrill Larsen

And I'd thought I'd know how I'd feel, worried that I might be underwhelmed. I mean, what could compare to election night and his words in Grant Park? But this was so much bigger. I was witnessing history, a specific moment when everything changed and the world watched.

His words rang out and I felt myself relax. I trust him and his slim shoulders and his huge brain to carry the weight of the United States. I know the road ahead will be long and rough--but I trust him to lead the way.

He's already banned torture. With one flick of his pen, one scrawl of his signature.

And I was there. Along with several million other folks who I will never see again. But for that morning, we were family, united in hope and pride and optimism.

I'm still feeling the warmth.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Mom Song

This is not mine, but I never saw anything so Erma-worthy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Moments of Thanks

"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

Fourteen years ago, just before dinnertime on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, my seven-year old son was hit by a car. Now twenty-one, he'll be arriving home from college on Wednesday. We have much for which to be thankful. But that night, for a few moments, I wasn't sure I'd ever breathe a thankful breath again. When the neighbor boy burst into my house, yelling, "Eric just got hit by a car!" my world froze. I wasn't sure I could face what awaited me just outside my front door. Somehow, I propelled myself outside, after tossing the phone to the neighbor and telling him to call 911. When I hit the porch steps I heard my son's cries and I thought, Okay, he's alive. When I knelt by his side, I saw his feet moving and told myself, Okay, he's not paralyzed. And I knew right then we were incredibly lucky. And I was thankful beyond measure.

Later, after the ambulance ride, after the X-rays, after the doctor shook his head and said, just before releasing him, "He's fine. He shouldn't be but he is," I remembered the above Stegner quote. The salt had been just ready to pour down on me, on us, on our life. And then it didn't. But I knew how easily it could have rained down over our world. A different driver. A bigger, faster car. A shift in the trajectory of my son's body as it flew through the air. But, even now, I have to turn my mind away from those awful possibilities.

Our lives are full of such moments, but many times we don't even know it. We don't know what we've narrowly escaped, what's just missed us. And so, for what we know and don't know, I am thankful. For the times the salt didn't pour down and for the strength to continue when it did, I give thanks.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, but even more, I wish you a spirit of thankfulness as you go about your lives everyday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seizing the Day

by Judy Merrill Larsen

Most of the time, my husband and I are pretty practical. We plan things. Save up for splurges. We organize.

Every Sunday we go over our respective calendars for the week. This allows me to plan menus and make my grocery list.

We're certainly no sticks-in-the-mud (hmm, should that be stick-in-the-muds? I don't think so) unless you ask one of our kids. But no one would accuse us of being madcap very often, either.

Except for when it comes to spur of the moment trips.

Like the time in Dec. 2003, we decided the day before to drive to Indianapolis for a Springsteen concert (two states and another time zone away). Did we have tickets? Um, no. But, we got them, we had an incredible time, and we both showed up for work the next day, more or less. (I believe my students did some free-reading or small group work. I don't really recall.)

Or the phone call we got early last month asking if we had any interest in Game Two of the playoffs at Wrigley Field (250 miles away). Why, yes, we did, thank you very much. We had to rearrange a few things (like work and such), but we went. And if the Cubs hadn't lost 10-3 we'd have had a blast.

So, it seemed par for the course that we decided, just last night, along with my sister and her husband, to use our frequent flier miles for a trip to Washington, D.C. in January for the Inauguration. Do we have tickets? Not yet, no. We're not even sure we'll be able to get them (but if you know of any, holler, okay?), but that doesn't matter. Along with experiencing history being made, we'll get to play with my sister and her husband and my brother and his wife (who have graciously offered up a place to stay). It'll probably be cold (but I hope not rainy) and most certainly will be very crowded and chaotic, but that's fine by me.

And I'm realizing that I'm in a position now to do the kinds of things I used to only dream about--pick up and go, make plans at the last minute, seize the day. All things I couldn't do when my kids were younger and my checkbook was thinner (well, at least the kids are older now). All the things I used to think were only available to the young.

Being middle-aged, empty/almost-empty nesters has perks I'd never dreamed of and which I'm happily latching onto. I might never have that pre-pregnancy firm body again, but I have some things so much better--perspective and confidence and the ability to say, what the heck, let's do it.

Middle-age. I highly recommend it!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Living History

By Margy McCarthy

I hope all the celebration hasn't gotten too old, because this is my first chance to talk about last Tuesday.


Four years ago during the last few weeks before the election, I remember saying to an apathetic friend, "It has never been this important." And I believed that with all my heart.

You all know how that worked out.

So this time, we were in four years deeper,we were in over our heads- and it was that much more important. And this time I knew we had the candidate, and I got up off my rear and made the phone calls and attended the rally and wrote the blogs and the letter to the editor and, and, and... This time I walked my talk.

And look how this worked out!

I think I'm still glowing. Am I still glowing?

But it was more this time than just me doing the right thing to help get a necessary job done. This time we all did it. And you could feel it in the air- even here in Arizona. And you still can. Change- she is a-comin'.

This was son Snooze's first election. He voted early by mail. He phoned me a couple of weeks ago with his ballot in hand to talk about several of the ballot propositions, and we had a good time decoding the legalese and he made his decisions wisely.

I called for a sub on Tuesday because I knew I wouldn't be able to stand being cooped up in my room at school all day. I got up at my usual time and went about my normal getting-ready routines; rather than pulling into the school parking lot bright and early, I would pull into City Hall. When I went in to wake Shriek for school, she said, "Can't I just come with you today?"

And I thought- "Why not?"

So she did. She waited while I voted, and then we drove to headquarters. She regaled me with her observations at the polls- "There were so many people! All kinds of people- there was a policeman and his wife, there was the pregnant lady with her baby, there was the old woman who could hardly walk..."

When we arrived at headquarters, the place was humming like a hive. We got phone lists and settled down at the phone banks. I made a call so Shriek could see how to handle the paperwork, and then we got to it.

I have never been so proud of that girl. She was a trooper. Ironically enough, she found her social studies teacher's name on her list. "Mom, do I really need to call Mr. F? We know he won't be home." I told her to go ahead and call when she came to him, and then she could just mark NH on her tally for not home. So we made calls. She went through her script, and did a nice job, and as she finished one call, I heard her say, "McCarthy." Then she laughed and hung up. "Honey, why are you telling your last name?" I asked. "That was Mr. F," she said. "That was his cell number, he was on prep, and he answered. When I finished talking he asked me 'Shriek who?' so I told him!"

When I finished my call list several hours later, I found my daughter across the hall, compiling literature for the canvassers. Her enthusiasm was palpable. She caught me up on the voting lines around the country she'd seen on CNN. She chattered nonstop as we drove home, anxious to start seeing the returns.

And when she got back to school the next day? Mr F said she didn't have to make up the quiz she had missed. She got full credit. "You were out there helping to make history yesterday," he told her, "that's worth a lot."

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Day of Firsts

I had a great job on election day.  I was a runner.  My first-ever election day job, from five-thirty to nine a.m., was to drive from one polling place to another dropping off Amendment and Proposition forms, "I Voted For Change" stickers (very important- not only for proudly wearing but also redeemable for Starbucks coffee, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and/or Krispy Kremes), yard signs, and t-shirts for poll workers.  I was thrilled with my assignment (though I did covet the lovely neon green t-shirts of the poll volunteers- mine was boring pale blue) because I got to see the lines.  The faces.  I got to feel the electricity; the excitement on the city sidewalks and church parking lots.  This vote didn't feel like any I'd ever experienced.  It felt like it was super-charged with a current of promise.

At one polling place, at five-thirty a.m., the line swept from the building to the sidewalk and down a block.  I walked up with my box of supplies to see cheering, smiles and high-fives between friends and complete strangers waiting in the dark to cast their historic vote.  Older women waited on folding chairs, those in line near them helping to move them as the line began to crawl forward.  I could have stayed all day, watching.  There were no complaints about the line- not a hint of annoyance from anyone.  It was as if the whole crowd knew that the long line was a wonderful sign of what the day might bring.

My daughter decided to vote at home.  She left college with a carload of kids and drove the three hours to get back.  Finally, at two-thirty in the afternoon, her little white Subaru pulled up to our polling place, the school at which she attended kindergarten.  She was wearing a shirt that said, "Throw Parties, Not Grenades."  That's our girl.  Anyway, we chatted with the poll workers and finally wandered in to cast our votes, our first child voting in her first-ever presidential election.  (Little did she know her vote would still not be counted toward the nation's total, three days later. Come on, Missouri!  Go blue!) She looked excited, grown-up; completely confident in her choice.  I had a hard time not crying.  

Monday and Tuesday were pretty teary in general.  I cried when my candidate's grandmother died.  What a life she led.  What a grandchild she raised!  I'm sure she saw the outcome.  I cried while last-minute canvassing when a tiny older woman with a heavy accent- a woman I could picture studying hard for her citizenship exam forty years before- pressed her hand to my arm and told me that she was too old to change our world, and asked me to do it for her.  But most of all, I cried as I watched the 44th President-elect of our amazing country standing on a stage in Chicago with his beautiful family, side by side with a wonderful statesman Vice-President-elect and his family, their colors blending like a perfect artist's rendering of what our country should always look like.

For the first time, we've gotten it right.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Proud to be an American

by Jenny Gardiner

For years Lee Greenwood's song, Proud to be an American, has been dragged out, dusted off, and exploited by a divisive segment of the population, used in a jingoistic way to portray the entire country in a way that seemed intended to poke the rest of the world in the eye. It became to some a lovely song that left a somewhat bitter taste behind.

Today, I have never felt prouder to be an American, Lee Greenwood or not. Having seen our democracy alive and vibrant and working as intended on Election Day was something that many of us who'd felt enormously disenfranchised deeply appreciated. It was a restorative tonic that was long overdue.

What I found to be most heartening was to watch the voting process in action while working at a polling station. Sure there were the usual cadre of voters, the ones who vote year in and year out. But then there were the new ones: the Latino couple, newly-minted citizens, casting their first ballot in a free country. Twenty-something young black men who'd never stepped foot in a voting venue, bravely venturing forth with pride to exercise a right they'd never contemplated before yesterday. There was the older black woman who was so flustered she couldn't remember her address when asked for verification, and had to prompt her daughter to answer for her. And then the many, many 18- and 19- and 20-year olds who have grown up feeling voiceless, finally feeling empowered to speak out. Countless times I choked back tears while watching democracy in action, while realizing that sure, our principles have been challenged, and we've felt undermined. But we have hope: an entire nation--really the entire world--feels a sense of hope that feels cathartic. It's simply overwhelming. In an amazing, pride-inducing way.