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Fanfare for the Common Man

Posted Nov 07 2008 6:24am
It's a bit like the days after September 11th.

A kind of reeling hush. A recognition of the impossibility of language, its inadequacy in the face of so enormous an event, so enormous a feeling. Except then the feeling was of a world shattered, stripped of all sense and gravity. While this...

...it's almost as if the buildings were uncrumbling, a film run in reverse: the infinitely fragile, enduring molecules reassembling, the sentient dust flying back into solid, meaningful form.

Before our astonished eyes.

At our house, I packed the last of the Obama cookies into school lunchboxes this morning. Our election night decorations still festoon the living room: dozens of red, white and blue household objects (a flip-flop, a candy cane, a bra...) suspended from the ceiling by long strips of clear packing tape. We are beginning to catch up on sleep. We are still liable to well up with tears, suddenly and without warning.

But let it not be unnoted that also this week three states voted to ban gay marriage. And that Barack Obama, although he supports civil rights for gay people, including their right to civil unions and domestic partnerships, is among those who oppose same-sex marriage. I do not understand his taking this stance - he of all people, whose own parents could have been arrested under state laws prohibiting interracial marriage (laws not struck down by the Supreme Court until 1967). I do not understand how he can sanction the idea of separate but equal in the matter of same-sex marriage. Already, already the bloom is off the rose.

That in itself is not a bad thing. Too rosy a view of the rose is as much a danger to the rose as to our own ideals. Better to see clearly, and early, the thorn.

Orlando Patterson, in an op-ed in today's Times, writes that the election of Obama marks not a radical shift in our nation's history, but a moment in its evolution that is consistent with its history:
To interpret it as a foundational change, ushering something new and unknown, is to diminish the past, to unduly singularize Mr. Obama’s achievement and to raise unrealistic expectations about his presidency.

(To raise unrealistic impressions? How many of us would admit to already harboring some? I see several hands...come, don't be shy...yes, mine is up, too...right then, that makes it just about unanimous.)

So, all right. That is the job for us: to experience our joy, yes, and mark our hope and tend it, while at the same time steadying our vision so that we may properly see the all work that has yet to be done. Not the work they keep talking about on the news, the immediate work of the next administration, the economy and the war and jobs. I mean the work that has always and will always belong to all of us, as common men and women, the work that Orlando Patterson reminds us has been going on for centuries and will continue long after us: our country's - our species' - evolution.
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