Hopes and Big Red Balloons

There is much talk of disappointed hopes and broken dreams as we round the corner from the one year anniversary of President Obama's election. A lot of expectations were riding on his shoulders as he faced the crowd in Chicago's Grant Park last year. I remember thinking at the time there was an almost visible burden bearing down on him as he took the stage that night despite the exuberant victory celebrations raging around him; as if he suddenly realized the weight of all those hopes and dreams he had taken on. His face had a slightly haunted look beneath the broad smile. As the wise man said, sometimes hell is getting exactly what you asked for.

I was pondering this as I traveled from Colorado to Iowa last weekend across the wide open plains of Kansas (plenty of what my friend calls "windshield time"). Obama himself admitted in his 2006 best selling book The Audacity of Hope that he was "a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views." "I am bound to disappoint some, if not all of them," he added, quite prophetically. And it is true, we do expect an awful lot from him.

As we stand today, much of what we hoped for in the fields of genuine health care reform, financial reform and economic recovery has just not come to fruition and, it looks as if it may not in the immediate future. There are many layers of inertia and corruption in the halls of government to overcome before real change happens and, let's face it, Obama is only one man who has been in the White House for a measly nine months. It may also be true that he is not the progressive savior many of us wished for. So desperate were we for release after eight dark years of Messrs. Bush & Cheney, our expectations may have soared a tad high, there.

But as I drove across the Topeka Hills, I realized no matter how disappointed and frustrated we might feel with the current political lockjaw, it is important we do not abandon those dreams of 2008. "The warrior of light tries to establish what he can truly rely on," wrote the Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho in his book Manual of the Warrior of Light. "And he always makes sure that he carries three things with him: faith, hope and love." These are more powerful tools than we realize. They are the secret weapons of the heart, and if we are to defeat the hobgoblins of fear and prejudice currently running amok in this country, above all, we need a well armed heart. It is a time to stay engaged in the process of government both intellectually and emotionally. By all means write letters and emails, challenge our leaders, push them to respond to the winds of change; vote them out if necessary. These all have an effect. But also keep bombarding them with the missiles of hopes and dreams until their frozen ears and scared hearts begin the thaw.

As I pulled out of Kansas City (sounds like a country and western song, doesn't it?) the gods of serendipity stepped in to reassure me. Flipping on the radio, I caught the tail end of an interview on NPR's Weekend Edition with Jeremy Ben Ami, head of the J Street PAC , a new lobbying group which, according to their website, "promotes security through peace, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and active diplomacy to address regional conflicts."

Responding to the interviewer's question about why they have been so vilified by traditional American-Israeli groups, Ben Ami said, "I think that the predominant emotion in the American Jewish community when it comes to considering conflicts with one's enemies is fear. And I think that's a pretty reasonable and understandable emotion….we're talking about some very, very profound and serious issues that tap into a collective consciousness and soul over centuries…in which a people has been persecuted and killed in mass numbers…[But] I think we've got to help people get beyond the fear. And, you know, I do believe that an organization, a movement based on hope is going to trump organizations that base themselves on fear."

If they can do it, so can we.

PS. My revelation in Kansas also came in poetic form, so for good measure, here it is:

something happened in Salina
between waking at 3am
bright as the dew
driving east under the night stars
for the first time
this darkness is only a shadow
cast by the sun
on our small spinning sphere

and watching the sun
rise over Topeka
like a big red balloon