Jan 21 2009

Redemption

Yesterday afternoon, we duded-up and joined a group of Americans invited to watch the inauguration at the Hotel de Ville. The Mayor of Paris hosted the event, the outgoing U-S ambassador was there; it was pretty posh. The grand ballrooms of the Hotel de Ville are rarely open to the public – I walk by the building almost every day, but I’d never seen the interior – and the gilded ceilings and ornamented chandeliers added to the privilege of the moment.
hotel_de_ville
Three large video screens broadcast CNN’s coverage of the event. People crowded around them, shaking their heads, clasping their hands over their mouths, applauding. Some, ultimately, crying. For me (and others), the money quote: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” When Obama said this I heard people gasp. It’s pretty extraordinary, how he can be fierce and firm, but open hearted at the same time.

Afterward, we drank champagne and mingled. I did the obligatory look-around. It’s the curse of a cocktail party; we feel compelled to survey the room, take in the crowd, see if there’s anyone interesting, or someone we know or need to know. Looking for Jim Bitterman, maybe. That’s when I saw her – my old friend.

She and I were really close at a time when I was wilder and more independent, before I had children, before we had a falling out. There was no particular drama about our parting, no harsh, angry words (at least not out loud). There just came a point when one of us stopped calling the other, and the other didn’t object. Three sides to this story: hers, mine, and the truth. And the truth is we probably just wore each other out. The details aren’t important, except to say that I haven’t seen or spoken to her in over four years.

I didn’t think before approaching her, and since my presence in front of her was an obvious surprise (even a shock) she had no time to think, either. This was a good thing. What followed was, admittedly, a slightly awkward conversation. We both made polite inquires about the key life categories: work, health, family, romance. By the end of our 10-minute exchange, it felt a bit more genuine – I wouldn’t say it was “just like old times,” but there was a slight warming between us. Well, I don’t really know how she felt, but I know I wasn’t pretending.

You know, it takes a lot of energy to hold a grudge. I guess in the spirit of that moment, inspired by the words of our new president, I let the residue of my anger and disappointment fall away. I was glad to see her.

Neither one of us made any overture to be in touch again. I wouldn’t mind rekindling our friendship, but I also know sometimes these things just run their course. It’s best to move on. Who knows? Time will tell. What matters, I realize, is that I’ve found yet another reason to admire President Barack Obama. He makes me want to be a better person.


Jan 20 2009

Hope

Today, there’s hope, I told her. She was pressing her fingers one-by-one into a bright pink glove, deliberately missing one of the fingers, the middle one, so she could hold up her hand and play out one of her favorite ruses: “Look Mama, which finger is missing?” Unimpressed with the weight of my proclamation, she ignored it.
barack-is-hope
Today there is hope, I told her again. It’s an historic day, a day I want her to remember. Anyone alive today will talk retrospectively about this day for the rest of their lives, remembering the ground they stood on when they witnessed history. Every generation has its “Where were you when…?” questions, many of them commemorating a tragedy. Where were you when you learned JFK was shot? When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated? When the World Trade Center collapsed? It makes for existential late-night conversation, sitting on the floor of the dorm-hallway, or a surefire opening for personal disclosure at a dinner party of strangers.

But instead of venerating a disastrous moment, the question provoked by today’s inaugural events will link us to an positive and optimistic memory, marking a pivotal moment in our lifetime where a nation peacefully and deliberately turned away from being powered by fear to being driven by hope. This is what I want her to remember about today. I want her to remember to hope. So I told her again, today there is hope.

“Hope for what?” she asked, “Candy?”