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My son Andrew and I recently did our part on the volunteer front, as requested by then President-elect Obama, to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.
We showed up at the Mission Medical Clinic (a local Colorado Springs based non-profit that provides medical services to people with little or no money) and painted for about three hours. It was fun and productive and I think Andrew enjoyed himself almost as much as I did.
There were 50 volunteers in all, only one of whom I knew personally: a student and friend of my daughter's at Cheyenne Mountain High School, Alex Pigford. He was missing basketball practice to be there. Very cool.
The event was great for me on numerous levels. It felt great to be an American first, and not a Republican.
I had to wonder, though, whether I was the only person there who did not vote for our first black president. You can imagine how bittersweet it was to watch the election night returns in November for those 48 percent of us who voted for the clunky patriot.
I have to admit, I cried, watching Barack in Chicago that night. It was a lovely moment. Secondly, it felt great to be able to move past my disappointment in the loss and get behind the new president. I wonder if the Bush White House staff removed all the "O's" from the computers in their unhappiness with the election results. Somehow I think not. His was not a very successful presidency, but he at least kept a modicum of class to the end.
I'm a successful regional level folk musician. I know you're wondering: How could I possibly have not voted for Obama, after all, isn't every musician just a rubber-stamp Democrat? Clearly not. Just as six percent of black voters did not vote for Obama, I too jumped ranks.
I am so curious to question that six percent segment of the voting population, aren't you? What did they find lacking in the Obama candidacy? Clearly, for them, as for me, race was not the issue. It made me realize that in the world of ideas, there is no black or white, no female or male, no gay or straight. There are only good ideas, and bad ideas, wise suggestions or foolish ones, workable solutions and unworkable solutions.
In choosing who to vote for, I found myself looking for a history of good ideas. I didn't find enough of them on the Obama side so...the clunky patriot got my vote.
Of course I am hopeful that President Obama will rise to the level that his new office demands by speaking to the fundamental American ideals that our country was founded on, with "life, liberty and justice for all" in the forefront. Notice that "increased taxation" is not mentioned on that list.
One of my close friends gave me a copy of Obama's book, "Dreams of My Father."
I've loved reading it. It gives me hope to hear some of the stories of his work in Chicago, his upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia, and his extended visit to his father's family in Kenya.
What I find most inspiring is his capacity to understand human beings and what motivates them, both the selfish and unselfish motivations, and sit within the discomfort of his understanding without simply discounting the people he is with. This is a remarkable trait in any human being. However, I do not know whether these interpersonal skills will translate into a successful presidency or not.
In any case, back to the volunteer day. Why was I there? I wanted my son to experience doing good work with other good people simply for the joy of helping out folks who have less than we do. I wanted him to see that when our President asks something of us, even when we don't vote for him, that we are classy enough to support him in his request, recognizing that we are all entwined with one another though we may disagree on certain things. And of course the best reason to be there (to once again quote that lovely writer Wendell Berry); "When you see the work to be done, how can you not be the one who wants to do it?" My son hates that quote now.
I was thankful that Alex, the student from Cheyenne Mountain High School, was at the event. Not only did he do good work, but it was a great gift for my 8-year- old son to see a young man show up alone, knowing no one, pitching in, helping out.
Quite honestly, Alex, the fact that I was able to hold you up as an example of a person who is doing his part made my discussion with my son later that night tremendously more powerful. We thanked God for you, Alex.