November 21, 2008
The only time my father allows the release of tears from his stubborn tear ducts is when we visit my grandfather’s grave. Other than this rare episode of emotional outpouring, unflinching stoicism is more my father’s area of mastery. On the night the American people overwhelmingly chose Barack Obama as our 44th President, my mother called to tell me that my father shed one lone tear as he watched the television screen.
That night my mother called to make sure she was not watching a parodied news station. It was that same night that I resolved to never speak to my father about that lone tear or the donations he made to the campaign or even the Obama e-mails he read with such routine commitment. I never asked because I did not want my academic discourse and loaded questions to ruin the one time my father was genuinely excited about something other than teaching his Arabic classes or getting a new Islamic history book.
As my mother spoke with me on the phone, I secretly wished to be my father. It wasn’t the years of cancer or 16-hour workdays that I envied. But, here, on election night, I was jealous of his ability to see and feel something I simply could not.
I felt a similar frustration at not being able to see and feel what my high school students could as they watched the results pouring in, and, despite their confusion about the meaning of electoral votes, frantically texted me. I experienced genuine anger at not being able to tap into a spiritual place where I, too, could understand what this one student with special needs saw, as she watched the man she’d meticulously followed in articles she could barely read, become our president.
As I watched everyone around me celebrate, it was difficult to cajole my spirit to conjure up a somewhat public and proper response to Barack Obama’s victory. What sacrifices do I need to make in my public responses to the election? Why is it important that I not rain on someone else’s parade? I am not mandated to have a set of emotions that are identical to the rest of the population–it would be eerie, and dare I say, uninspiring if we all anchored ourselves to pre-selected emotional trigger points.
But, there are times when we cannot be who we are in order to allow others to become what they need to be. My students need hope, and my father needs to see someone who looks like him in a position of power before he passes from this world. My South African friends, who called, texted, sent smoke signals and e-mails to remind me to vote Barack Obama, need to see that we Americans have the potential to do more. For this to happen I must quiet my ambivalence.