I had just read an article in Oprah magazine about how to improve your luck through the simple act of connecting with people you meet on a daily basis — striking up conversations in grocery store lines, saying hello in the dry cleaners and that sort of thing. There I was, sitting at the dentist (reading People magazine and making no effort to meet anyone – I have no sense of Oprah-spirit!), waiting for my kids to have their ($600!) cleanings when a woman who kept going in and coming out of the dental offices, sat opposite me. At the same time another woman walked in and sat between us. The first woman, who I later learned was named Caroline commented on the beautiful sunny day and the conversation quickly turned to Obama as his inauguration was to be the following day (yesterday). There was electricity in the air.
Perhaps the article about connections was right.
The inauguration has unleashed magic on us all it seems, and the article about connections seemed so apt at that moment. Improving our chances in life through simply being open to opportunities.
At one point I said, “I keep wondering if this was how it felt when Kennedy was elected. I am too young to remember,” and Caroline said, “I think there was one big difference. The economy was good then.” I must have looked at her askance because she continued. “When economies are bad, it has this amazing effect of bringing people together more. People bond over the bad news, eat at home more often, band together to help each other out and community becomes much more important. When Kennedy was elected, things were good, so there was less of this sense of community.”
Damn, there it was again. Community. Working together. Making connections.
Given that I had just spent the last week sequestered inside a closet recording my book (now done, yea!), perhaps this was resonating with me. I am very much aware of my own isolation. I like to think I am not isolating myself on purpose, but I do wonder if it might just be a manifestation of old grief or part of a mild depression. I try to get out, I really do.
But back to Obama. We talked a little more, and the other woman, wiped away tears talking about how wonderful having Obama finally in place was going to be. I had to swallow back my own. Caroline, who I should probably mention was African American was smiling, but tearless. She had seen it all.
It did make me wonder though. Why were the white chicks wiping away the tears? Happy that Bush was gone? Happy that America actually had it in them to elect an African American president? A decent guy? A smart guy? Guilty that we had to call him an African American president? Hopeful that huge change was upon us?
At one point, I found myself slipping, by alluding to the fact that now that Obama was president, maybe racism in America could take a back seat for a while. Anything seems possible with Obama. Caroline was quick to correct me. “Racism still exists of course.” Of course. Right. In my mind it doesn’t. But I am idealistic, and blind. Deep down I fear being racist, something that seems to have so many shades of gray these days. So maybe that is why we were crying: feeling like we had taken such a huge step towards the elimination of racism, cracking open our community, quadrupling our chances at making that one magical, lucky connection, that will change our life forever. Or else it was because we know that although one man can go a long way towards changing entire outlooks (MLK has to appear in here somewhere), we still have a long road. But then I remembered that Caroline didn’t tear up. She just kept shaking her head and saying “I never imagined I would live to see this day. I had hoped that my 14 grandchildren might get to, but never me.” That’s when the tear I was holding back slipped, and landed on my lap. Connection made.