I celebrated another birthday this week and I realize with each passing year how much I have learned in my life. Every day, every week, every year. And the lessons keep coming. But the ultimate lesson of where we all go from here– no matter how deeply I reflect– I can never quite resolve. I only know that we are here and we are gone. And that somewhere our spirits and our souls are transformed and we slip quietly out of view of those we leave to the Earth.
In the meantime, we live and we learn. And we enjoy occasional moments of profound transformation.
This weekend, we are all on the precipice of such a moment. One that stirs our history and our hopes. There is an unmistakable spiritual presence emerging even while our nation reels from conditions that might otherwise seem awfully bleak. In three days, we will arise and walk again.
I am reminded of the dangers of attributing superhuman qualities to one man. But for nearly a decade Americans as a people have sputtered and flailed and failed mightily to grasp or hold the greatness that we once believed we were pre-ordained to achieve. Our world is is in turmoil. The fabric of America, is in tatters. And we have turned to a person possessed with uncommon wisdom and natural gifts– not the least of which is his deeply inspiring spiritual intelligence.
This week, as he braces for Inauguration Day and the ride of a million lifetimes, Barack Obama published a letter that he has written to his daughters: “What I Want for You– And Every Child in America”. In it he says:
“When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.”
For those of us who have raised our own children and who know what it means to delay our own personal ambitions and dreams so that our babies might realize theirs– it is an extraordinary admission.
How many parents have watched their infants sleeping and longed to provide the world for them? We so desperately want to remove the heartaches and failures and disappointments that might discourage them. We sacrifice to provide for them. Each generation stretches to the very boundaries of its collective talent to make the lives of the next generation that much easier, that much more fulfilled. It is what parents are expected to do. “Devotion” is listed in the job description.
So for his part, Barack Obama has merely ascended to the most difficult job on the face of the earth– to become the most powerful living human being– to make the world a better place for the daughters he loves so dearly. He has risen above paralyzing political divisions for the opportunity to change the course of America. To become president, he merely had to transcend centuries of racism, intractable prejudice, and a tortured national history of self-hatred that manifests itself in bigotry and intolerance.
And he writes:
“That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.
She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better-and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It’s a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be.
These are the things I want for you-to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.
I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much-although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.”
For those of us who have devoted our life’s work to the service of children– whose schools reflect our own beliefs in the virtues of justice and equality– the Inauguration of Barack Obama is a moment of blessed redemption.
I forwarded President Obama’s letter to Keenan and Kira and I am looking forward to discussing it with them.
“I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had .”
I am not usually so reflective on my birthday. But at this moment, the past and future seem to be aligning. The lessons of the universe… the mysteries of life. The devotion of our ancestors… our hopes for our children. Our historical struggle… our resurrection.
So on we go. January 20, 2009. We change the world.