All day "America" has been uttered in tones of reverence that haven't been heard for a long time. There's pride where it had depleted to almost non-existent levels. The United States, in its constant forward stride, has evolved more freely, fully and fast than many dared dream.
When I woke up this morning I did not know it would be to a feeling of national security. I thought I'd be afraid that the president-elect would not make our defense enough of a priority, that he wouldn't be tough enough, that he couldn't be hard if he had to be. And maybe I still think those things. But what I didn't expect to experience was the overwhelming sense of safety that comes from being truly united. It's not that no harm can befall us; it's that we won't fall if it does. Today, Obama as a decision maker seems less historic to me than Obama as a man. He has pulled jagged and disjointed edges of our map into a well-rounded swell on the globe.
After 9/11, I found solace in the way we pulled together as a nation. I feel the same comfort today. That this fierce national pride came from something good instead of something so incomparably horrible makes it that much more joyful. It gives me that much more hope.
Today we can all be who we are, thanks in no small part to this landmark presidential race. Obama, Biden, McCain and Palin have all taught us different lessons about what it means to be an American in this day and age. Sometimes the lessons come in strange places. I got one earlier this afternoon outside the cafeteria at IKEA.
Nursing my son in a leather armchair arrayed in an informal lounge setup, I tried to keep myself covered despite having forgotten a blanket to throw over my shoulder. The teeth of my zipper bit at Number Two's cheek as I tried to keep my jacket over his face. The effort wasn't altogether successful, and I looked up nervously as an elderly man walked over in search of a catalog. I told him I didn't know where they were. He nodded, smiled and turned to walk away. Then I heard his voice behind me.
"Excuse me, ma'am. I don't mean to intrude." He was back in my field of vision, smiling beneath a white fluff of fuzz circling his pate.
I jerked my jacket back over the baby's face and tried to look friendly through my distraction.
"I wanted to tell you I saw Sarah Palin doing that," he said. The man nodded toward my son, who was oblivious to the world in the face of his late morning snack. At first I was confused, but then I saw it was approval radiating from the man's face, round and rosy like Santa's. "Feeding her baby right there, on national television."
I smiled back, and I nodded. That's what I do as a place saver because information doesn't usually process right away. But, as the conversation slowly settled into my gray matter, a genuine grin stretched my mouth up into my cheeks. I saw a natural acceptance that this stranger was able to put in context, and articulate, through Trig. The positive acknowledgement of public motherhood was novel. I almost laughed with the lightness of it.
I knew then--a realization lit by the fluorescent glow of overhead lights bouncing off metallic finishes--that no one person, no one party, has a lock on change. We've made it together to where we are today.
"My daughter did it, too," the squat, jolly gent said as he turned again to resume his departure. "Nothin' wrong with that. Nothin' wrong with that."