As election night unfolded, we heard a whisper of possibilities. We heard this not only in the speech of our President-elect Obama, but in the gracious words of the candidate who did not ascend to the highest office in the land. Senator John McCain called Obama “my president” and said that “These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.”
Obama, in turn, called for “a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.”
I hope these honorable intentions to gather unlikely corners of the country together will be realized and that it’s not too late.
Every American has her own prism through which she absorbed the speeches last night. Mine is exemplified by conversations with three friends last week. Their words keep ringing in my ears. These woman could not be more different: A New York banking executive who lives in Manhattan’s Upper East side and has an infant. A working mom in rural Virginia who has no health insurance and whose children are on Medicaid. A high school friend in Kentucky who stays at home with her three elementary-age boys. These three mothers have little in common, save their gender and tireless work ethic. But in their own words, they all said the same thing.
Making life work has gotten too hard. Neither college degrees nor connections nor working multiple jobs seem to matter. Demands on them, like so many, are relentless. Taking care of ailing parents and sick kids. Paying for a roof and four walls. Buying food and the gas it takes to drive the kids home from after-school activities. Watching years of work, manifested in 401Ks and retirement accounts, dwindle and evaporate. When will we feel secure again?
In Barack Obama’s victory speech last night, there was real acknowledgment of this widespread pain—and a recipe for healing. A humble plea to ban together, to listen, to understand differences, because we can’t figure it out alone. It was there in John McCain’s speech, too, in his public commitment to get on board and do what is necessary and in his acknowledgment that Obama’s path to the presidency is the story the nation needs right now.
As the President-elect pointed out, “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.”
I hope these words—this poignant call to unity in speeches certainly crafted by professionals long before election night, will take root. I hope election night oratory was not just about a good show. I hope the millions of us who are trying to figure out how to make it all work will, in fact, begin to imagine new and creative ways for tending to what is necessary while also, actually, pursuing happiness.
First appeared on November 5, 2008.