The First Word: A Tide of Hope
I’m flying from New York to San Francisco in a window seat looking out over the great expanse that is America. It’s my favorite route to fly. As always I’m struck by the majesty of the countryside – the mountains and lakes and rivers and the tiny dots of houses that hunker down into the landscape like covered wagons. Invariably, the words to “God Bless America” enter my head. I picture the early settlers making their way across the country. I think that in another life I was on one of those wagons (I always see myself in the driving seat!).
It’s the day before the election. I knew this trip was coming up so I already voted by absentee ballot. It took me a long time to earn my citizenship so I never miss an opportunity to vote and I sure didn’t want to miss this one.
I have an immigrant’s love for this country. And in these difficult days ahead, I also have an immigrant’s optimism. It’s born out of my own experience, and the stories that come across my desk every day that tell me that this country is made up of people with strong survivor genes.
Election Day: I watch the results with my mother who will be 89 in exactly one month. Born at the end of WWI, she lived in London during WWII and was injured in a bombing – an injury that pains her still. She has seen many changes, lived in many countries.
I am glad that she has lived to see this day.
“Well, I think it will be good,” she says, nodding her head as we watch President-elect Obama’s speech from Grant Park.
I look at the extraordinary size and diversity of the crowd.
Yes, it will be good.
I tell all who will listen that Obama has an Irish great great-grandfather. It seems important to me to make that connection. He represents the hopes of so many ethnic minorities and people at the bottom of the totem pole, and I want to remind people that the Irish too had their struggle. And also that there was an Irish element to this election – from my own friends who knocked on doors in Pennsylvania (Peter Quinn and Mary Pat Kelly among them) to the Kennedy family, and Joe Biden – who will make a wonderful Vice President.
I look at that photograph of Obama’s mother and it reminds me of my aunt Breda who grew up in the same Irish farmhouse that I did. After first immigrating to California, she settled in Hawaii where she married Tom O’Brien from Wisconsin, who attended university there. Her yearly Christmas cards, pictures of her family with palm trees in the background, brought a burst of sunshine to an Irish winter.
The President-elect has brought the sunshine of hope to us.
He has a daunting task ahead, and as the kind nuns who look after my mother say, “He will need our prayers,” but he will surround himself with good people and get the job done.
You have my prayers Mr. President-elect. I leave you with the words to an Irish blessing, that ironically, I first heard from an Indian Sikh, Yogi Bhajan.
“May the longtime sun shine upon you. All love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.” Sat Nam.
(Note: Yogi Bhajan first heard the words to this blessing performed by the Incredible Spring band at a concert in San Francisco. He decided to use it as a closing prayer to end each Kundalini yoga class (the yoga of the Sikh Warriors that he brought to the U.S. in 1969). He added the words Sat Nam which mean, “Truth is your name.”)