The Broad is Back!

January 20, 2009

History is made–Is that hope I feel?

Filed under: American culture,heros,Obama,patriotism,politics,Uncategorized — by maggiec @ 7:01 pm

“History was made” is a phrase that appears all too frequently in newscasts. But today, history was well and truly made when Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Thanks to a car accident over the weekend, at noon today I sat in a rental car, listening to the swearing in and the inaugural speech. I was happy when I arrived at my destination as I was crying and afraid to drive. I dashed into the body shop hoping the TV was on, and it was. There I sat in the waiting room of a car repair shop, watching the end of the speech.

Tears were rolling down my cheeks, and while I was embarrassed (I hate to be seen crying), I let it rip. I had actually planned on being in Washington for the inauguration, just so I could say I was there, but the car accident changed all plans.  At the end of the speech, I just looked at the men in the room–it was me and some men–and said, “I’m a girl; I can get away with this.”

President Obama–finally we can say that!  I feel such pride.  And, dare I say it? I feel hope.  The last inauguration that I watched was President Clinton’s in ’92.  It was the last time I was in the US for one, and really, it was the last time I cared.  I was full of hope then, too, after 12 long years of Republican rule by presidents I could barely tolerate.  The “greed is good” 80s were an anathema to my view of life and wealth.  It didn’t take long for me to be disillusioned by the Clinton administration.  They were better than what went before, true, but “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the miserable failure of the Clinton health plan soured the hope for me.

But today, listening to the speech, I felt hope again.  I love words.  I love stirring rhetoric, and today’s speech was a good one.  It had echoes of Presidents Washington (not a man known for stirring rhetoric, of course), FDR and JFK.

The first section of speech that hit my heart was this:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.  The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

I actually had to pull off the street because I was crying too hard to drive.  It’s a quote from one of my favorite verses of Scripture: 1 Cor 13:11.  It comes after the famous definition of Love, but there is the hint that in the spirit of Love, we must go forth as a nation.  And because of that, we are all equal, all free, all deserving.  I cried because I believe that wholeheartedly, but also because for so many, especially so many of my students, that equality seems so far.

Then came this paragraph:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given.  It must be earned.  Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less.  It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

I could drive during this part.  In fact, I snorted.  Too many of us in this country have become lazy, looking for short cuts and the easy way.  No one knows this better than teachers.

After coming back from 12 years abroad, I have noticed a sense of entitlement that shocks me.  When I give C grades to students–by definition an average grade–students get angry at me and often demand an A grade, meaning excellent.  I often think the C is inflated, but there it is.  They actually handed something in, so it must be excellent.

Fox News reported on a study to that end last November, “Many Teens Overconfident; Have “Wildly” Unrealistic Expectations” which didn’t shock me in the least.  And of course, their parents are to blame, and that’s my generation.  I see too much laziness and corner cutting in my own generation as well.

So this is what scares me about the challenges America faces.  I’ve mentioned many times that President Obama and I are the same age.  Michelle Obama is three years younger than me.  I’m well educated, I admit, but compared to the Obamas, I’m a regular slacker.  I can tell myself that being a teacher is a noble profession, that I’ve touched the lives of thousands of kids.  Yeah, but I also tell myself that thousands of them don’t remember me at all, or if they do it’s with mild annoyance.

Am I ready and willing to pick up the challenge?  Frankly, I’m tired.  I feel like I’ve been fighting the good fight for the past 12 years.  I was fighting it before that as well.  I’ve never given up the dream of my 60s youth.

When I heard these words today:

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

the tears began anew.  I believe these words with all of my heart.

Hopefully, the tired and ragged idealists among us will feel refreshed and be ready to soldier on.  And those who never really thought of the responsibility part of being an American will wake up and see the light.

I have hope.  One of my all time favorite pieces of advice to my students  is this quote by Edith Hamilton: “When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”  May we learn a hard lesson from history.

And at this junction, I can’t help but think of the Kennedy brothers: the hope they still engender.  My hero Bobby gives me a fitting ending for this essay:

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

I would add say a prayer for our new president and his family.  Because we live in a savage world, he needs our prayers

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1 Comment »

  1. A beautiful story. We may finally be back on the right track. All those marches and protests were not for naught. As a previous student, I had no illusions. No matter how endearing you were in class, when it comes to grading papers, you don’t play. If some of your students remember you with mild annoyance, it is because you tried to get the best out of them -someday they will realize. I realize it now, thank you. So as a teacher, you have planted seeds of knowledge. You may have taught a future leader the world will appreciate. Hope, Time and Faith (anathema?). Of all the newspapers we save for prosperity – when our children’s grandchildren read about Obama 2009, their response will be “what’s the big deal?”

    Comment by Emma — January 21, 2009 @ 10:14 am |Reply


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