all creation rejoices
I stayed up late on election night in the television’s glow, like everyone else in America. Jeff controlled the remote and alternated between the major networks, avoiding commercials and trying to find the best commentary and least obnoxious presentation. We always favor PBS, with its spare branding and sane spokespeople over, say, Fox or even CNN, with their splashy and over-produced backdrops and cinematic soundtracks. For a time we even watched Comedy Central, where Steven Colbert and John Stewart were going at it together. But approaching midnight all of the major networks began to glow with essentially the same thing: an array of human faces, both in Chicago and in Times Square, tilted up and open, soaking in the vision of their new president like a field of wildflowers in a long-awaited rain shower. The camera, as it does at a major sporting event, would alight on one face, then another. But these faces were definitely expressing far more profundity of human feeling than any sports fan.
I’m really not good at writing about politics. I might even have no business writing about them, any more than I could be a sports commentator, because, by nature, I tend to be so a-political and clueless about what’s going on. It’s like baseball for me: I only watch the World Series. I didn’t even really and truly pay much attention to the career happenings of either candidate until their campaigns culminated into the live and very hard-to-miss presidential debates. Only then, tuning in from the place of pajamas and ice cream, did I start feeling some election vibe and developing something like a stance.
My opinion was born too late and didn’t have time to reach maturity. Like everyone else who adores him, for reasons that– at least to me– are exceedingly obvious, I too started to get excited about Obama. But then the night before the election day, however, I started getting last-minute voter panic over my own dearth of real knowledge. I had not really read much or followed much; I had been overly content to receive the generalities; I had not done my own research. I started finding things online, naturally, and stumbled on a transcript of Obama’s speech to Planned Parenthood, where he talked about his daughters’ freedom to pursue “their own version” of happiness. I am not ready to be a spokesperson within the deadlock of the abortion controversy, and am always so impressed by Orthodox writers like Frederica Matthewes-Green or Jim Forest, who do it so confidently, and well. But I will say that while I desire happiness for my own daughter, it isn’t the happiness that Obama was preaching that day– a happiness qualified by the unhinging of persons, one from another, so that one is free to fly away, like a kite with no string. I believe in a happiness bound, tangled, and burdened in the very strings and sinews of human parts. The brilliant, rousing oration on behalf of our nation’s daughters, who are each to pursue their own version of happiness in Futureland, made my heart burrow down and hide itself from American dreams, whose intoxication, I remembered sadly, I can never truly, deeply share.
The next day the polls were open. I fiddled around the house in the morning in a state of procrastination and denial, doing chores, and feeling burdened and sad, wondering if I could bring myself to go to the voting booth only two blocks north of my apartment, as I’d been planning to do for weeks. In the end, I did go, after concluding that I would feel worse– really lame– for not voting at all.
But despite my sadness and self-distancing from my own ballot, I am still not impervious to what those people in Chicago were feeling last night, and are probably still feeling in the afterglow. I especially feel a strong poignancy and wonder for the deep-seated emotions that minorities and immigrants in this country must be feeling right now at the mere symbolic power of what has happened. Maybe it’s because I only live two hours from Chicago, but when I walked out of our building the next morning, it seemed as if perhaps all of that big emotion emanating from the Windy City had rolled over our land overnight, transforming nature in its wake. The air crackled. The autumn season, which has been with us for weeks, growing tired, felt newly minted. Little brown papery leaves were twirling down and somersaulting across the pavement in swirly, anti-gravitational bunches around my car as I drove Esme to the friend who babysits her while I’m at work. When I arrived on the campus of Notre Dame, a campus known for its park-like landscape, these same trees throwing their confetti were also filled with singing birds. It was a cross between autumn loveliness and spring riot–the embodiment of “all creation rejoices.”
Jeff and I are very lucky that I have a part-time job in the same place where he is a student, because sometimes we can meet for lunch, and it’s like being on a miniature date without Esme, which otherwise is a rare thing. We sat on a bench outside where a bumble bee and airborne leaves wouldn’t leave my food alone, and talked about the various reactions to the election which we were seeing and hearing in the people around us, and online, of course, on facebook. Just walking from one side of campus to the next allowed us to overhear cell phone conversations such as, “I can only hope that the next four years are just so horrible that a Republican will get elected back in,” to, well, you know, the exact opposite. I saw one young black student bounding up the stairs to the student center holler to a friend biking by: “I know, man, right?”
One professor, an Obama supporter, had to dismiss a herd of undergraduates and cancel a Wednesday morning class shortly after it began because she was still crying from joy and couldn’t go on with her lecture. Meanwhile, we had also heard news of some of the reactions from the Bible Belt, where Jeff’s home town is squarely located, and where a certain church pastor there was praying a certain Psalm verse “over” Obama. Jeff was curious, and looked up the verse. He found the disturbing words: “May his days be numbered.”
I am a little worried about America right now, and all of these extreme emotions. I am cautious, and yet if I am being truly honest with myself, I have to admit that I too find the election of Obama exciting, and am waiting with everyone else for some of this election dust to settle (if it ever does) so that we can see how exactly the next four years are going to look. And while I do hope to see a lot of the changes he has promised, like paid maternity leave and more sick days for parents, and equal pay for women doing jobs identical to men (e.g., the Lilly Ledbetter Act), I know that, as everyone is so quick to point out, not all of this is going to happen promise per promise. I understand from number crunchers that the proposed healthcare reforms of Obama, and McCain, for that matter, are not even remotely possible or realistic.
More than anything, I think it comes down to this beautiful weather where I live, in Indiana, a swing state, and what one chooses to read in it. I do not really think that creation is rejoicing in the election of Barack Obama. Instead, I think this:
All creation rejoices in you, O Theotokos, for through your miraculous childbearing, all creation has been set free. Surely the angels marveled at the love and compassion of God when He lowered himself to be born as a man in a virgin’s womb. The angelic host rejoices, seeing the fullness and the depths of God’s love, and all humanity rejoices with them, for the human nature is set free of bondage. All of creation rejoices, as Apostle Paul says, “for creation is set free of its bondage into the glorious freedom of God’s children.”
By the way, special-special thanks go to Amber for leaving open and overly generous permission to blog her amazing flickr photos.