The words “change” and
“hope” take on new meanings starting NOW.
By Fred Mills
Trying to process everything that’s happened since Nov. 4
has been challenging. It’s easy enough to mouth the buzzwords “change” and
“hope” and numerous others that cropped up during the election; it’s an entire
other thing to figure out exactly what kind of change one needs, desires or
expects, and to express exactly what having hope is all about.
It finally started coming into focus yesterday, during the
observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. The local radio station was
playing a lot of civil rights-themed music and additionally aired the famous
speech that King gave not long before his assassination. Eating lunch during all
this with my 8-year old son, I talked to him about the King era – about how I
grew up during segregation in the South, how during my first 6 or 7 years of
education there were no African-American kids allowed to attend the same school
as I did, and how after integration was fully implemented in the South the fact
that his grandmother had been a member of the local school board and helped try
to ensure that everything went smoothly (it didn’t, of course, and we even
received phoned threats at our house).
He told me a little about what they’d studied about King at
his school and seemed to have a pretty good grasp of the man’s importance. He
wasn’t quite so clear on the whole notion of segregation, I don’t think, and in
a way, that’s good. He has plenty of time to study it more in-depth in school,
after all. You see, he’s known and played with kids of other races since he was
13 months old, from the time he started daycare. He doesn’t even think in terms
of “African-American” or “Asian” or “Mexican” or any such labels that connote
some form of “other-ness”; the only times I’ve heard him rely on any form of
labeling has been to describe gradations in skin color (dark, light tan, etc.)
when asked to describe someone.
In my miniscule corner of the world, he represents our
future for an eventual colorblind society.
As the excitement in my house grew during the run-up to Nov.
4, my son gleefully came along for the ride. Lots of “Bush sucks!” rhetoric, of
course, but he also enjoyed the time we spent canvassing and calling folks for
the Obama campaign during the last days of get-out-the-vote. On Election Night,
he insisted that we wake him up before we went to bed ourselves to let him know
if Obama had won.
Meanwhile, in the world at large, things were getting
progressively grimmer, from international events to the domestic financial
situation. It was almost as if 8 years of the Bush administration had finally
reached a horrifying climax. On more than one occasion I told folks that I
finally understood what it must have been like for earlier generations, growing
up under the shadows of the Depression or a major war and worrying about what
their children would have to face. I cannot adequately express the anxiety I’ve
experienced of late, fretting over my son’s future and what I can or am
supposed to do to ensure that he has every opportunity to reach that future
unscathed. It’s made me, at times, angry, bitter, self-absorbed, and just
So this morning, our family is sitting there in the living
room, watching the swearing-in ceremony followed by our new President’s speech.
And since my kid and a friend of his who was visiting had been very patient and
respectful through the whole process, I tell them that they can go back
downstairs and resume playing if they wanted to.
My son glances over at me, and with a look I don’t think
I’ve seen before, says very casually, “No daddy, that’s okay. I want to watch
this. It’s important.”
Coming from a child who less than an hour earlier had griped
loudly about having to pull away from
some apparently very intense Lego activity in order to watch the inauguration, this
startled, and pleased, me.
Because somehow he knew and
understood that he was bearing witness to history. Imagine that – in an 8 year
In that instance, seeing things through his eyes, I gained a
sense, on an entirely new level, of what change and hope can mean.