Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Something happened to me on November 8th, 2006. I woke up and everything seemed a little easier. Traffic to work was nominal, the faces of my colleagues at work seemed genial, and all of my favorite websites pulsed with positivity. During my routine lunch-break walk the air spun a sweet scent and radiated a weak heat that California calls Fall. As the stumpy palm trees and fire-friendly grasses swayed with the wind, I was reminded of a passage in an essay written by the incandescently true Anne Lamott titled, Ham of God. In the essay, Lamott wrote:

Everyone I know has been devastated by Bush's presidency and, in particular, our country's heroic military activities overseas. I can usually manage crabby hope that there is meaning in mess and pain, that more will be revealed, and that truth and beauty will somehow win out in the end. But I'd been much had been stolen from us by Bush, from the very beginning of his reign, and especially since he went to war in Iraq. I wake up some mornings pinned to the bed by centrifugal sadness and frustration. A friend called to wish me Happy Birthday, and I remembered something she'd said many years ago, while reading a Vanity Fair article about Hitler's affair with his niece. "I have had it with Hitler," Peggy said vehemently, throwing the magazine to the floor. And I'd had it with Bush.

Up until November 7, 2006 I too had had it with Bush. The dishonest politics, dismembered reasoning and disabled leadership all swirled into a quiet daily misery that clung to my leg like a playful child. There was no doubt about it: I had given up. I had learned to ignore this perpetual, nagging injury my daily life sustained, the result of the direct and aggressive insulting of my intelligence. Since 2000, I had more than lost my bearings, I had lost my national history. The past six years for me are a period of life marred by political disillusion and dispair. I have not recognized the sleepwalking country that is my own. Decency and hopefulness disappeared. When I was a sophomore in college, I headed to Washington, D.C., to attend Georgetown University, and no matter my politics (I was a safely closeted Republican) the knowledge imparted to me in my government courses was imbued with an overall tone clearly enunciated, a tone that mimicked what I had been taught growing up in Iowa: respect, collegiality and forward-looking perspective were the framework of my people and its government, and ideology was mere color on the canvas. If latent, petty hatreds existed, they were managed in the name of a greater purpose: getting along.

I distinctly recall the early morning George W. Bush was announced by cable commentators as the next President of the United States. My blunt and endearing grandfather Earl had just passed away, and my bags were packed for a return trip to Iowa to be with my family. The telephone in my dark, basement apartment on 31st street rang, and my mother said, "Can you believe this?" At first, I wasn't sure if she was referring to the grief we all felt over my grandfather's passing, or the prolonged, troubled election results. I immediately knew she had chosen the distraction, as would be natural, and meant the election results. In my family, politics was serious and significant. In fact, I recall asking my mother that evening if my now-deceased grandfather had voted. But you see, prior to that moment in 2000, American politics and family politics were very similar. They involved power and pressure and guilt and results, but all squeezed with a strong embrace of belonging and love. We were all in it together.

One of my clearest memories in life is returning from that very funeral. I was sitting in a window seat on a small Northwest Airlines plane, pulling away from a Kentucky airport gate. I was watching Katherine Harris' heavy, made-up mug certifying the votes that would make George W. Bush the next leader of the free world. My anticipation was salient, however misguided (I had voted for Bush). For me, looking back, that moment combines with the grief I felt for my mother's loss of her second parent. Knowing what I know today, that grief would shift its primary rationale and focus but would not leave me for six years. Not until this November 8th.

As a creature of routine, for once on November 8th, 2006, I welcomed with intensity the notion that everything must change, that absolute truth gets tested and unquestioningly yields to the arc of new orders. On the morning of November 8th, I felt as if the entire nation had thrown the proverbial magazine down, disgusted with being so viciously discounted for so long. W's "thumpin'" was my reason to believe. It should be a reason to believe for all of us.

Of course, I do not expect that the nation's political tonal trajectory will improve immediately. I am not stupid, but I am no longer put upon with the burden of lies being believed, no longer weighed down with the Rovian rhetoric of divide and scare.

In the late 80s, when I was nearing 11 years old, my grandmother Zita and I would conduct play-acted political interviews and tape them on an old black analog recorder. I played the role of Dan Quayle, the then current vice-president, and my grandmother played the cynical interviewer. My role consisted of playing dumb, and my grandmothers, of the inquisitive journalist. After recording these sessions, we would replay them and would laugh and laugh. I don't think I have experienced such pure laughter too often since those interviews. But together, our humor was as deeply joyful as it was harmless. At that time, making fun of political leaders was different, Despite our laughter and mockery, the powers that be governed, and our homes and churches and bedrooms were wonderfully quiet and absent of these leaders' judgment. These places sustained a spirituality and intimacy that was special and shared with only a few. The laughter about our leaders then contained no trace of nervousness. We feared our God, but never our Government.

9/11 did not shift this paradigm. Karl Rove did. And on November 8th, 2006, as I tossed my magazine down and loudly proclaimed, "I have had it with George W. Bush," something shifted again. Something righted itself.

I am reminded of two years earlier, on that clear, hot day of November 8th, 2004. I stood on the steaming concrete tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport waiting for my transit shuttle to move. I had just touched down from a month-long work project in Ahmedabad, India, and I was filled with stories of a foreign land and utterly exhausted. My tiny cell phone found its signal, and I excitedly dialed my brother in Chicago. The results. Who won? This time, I had voted for John Kerry.

"It's over, buddy," my brother said, with a sadness unmistakable between kin.

This November 8th, I thought of that moment yet again.

"It's over, buddy."

Well, yes, it almost is. And for this, for this, I am truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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