Sure, I may be a bleeding heart. And it's true I've developed a tendency toward sentimentalism inherited from my mother, who has been known to choke up at that old Folger's Coffee commercial --the one where a long-lost son comes home for the holidays, armed with presents, to find his family overcome with happiness while a fresh pot brews on a snowy Christmas morning.
But this is an entirely different situation. We're talking about the future of our country. We're talking about the first African-American president in our nation's history. We're talking about the FDR of our time. (Full disclosure: I'm tearing up as I write.)
My sniffling started four years ago during Obama's astounding speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Here was a natural born orator--the likes of which my generation knew only from scratchy archival footage of the Kennedy brothers, or Martin Luther King--who embodied the awesome potential of a 21st century America, and who spoke with the graceful voice of a true change maker:
"I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible," said Obama to rousing applause.
Bingo. I was reaching for the nearest box of Kleenex. In 17 minutes, he had articulated what thousands of men and women, devastated in a thousand different ways by the Bush administration, still believed was possible for their country. I knew that night, as I sat red-eyed and runny-nosed in front of the TV, that something deeply significant had just happened. That's not the last we'll see of him, I thought, secretly hoping beyond all hope.
Little did I know the emotional roller coaster that would ensue.
First came the days when I had to explain to my fellow bleeding hearts why a longtime feminist with a degree in women's studies was choosing Barack over Hillary. Then there was the pain of watching Bill turn on his would-be comrade, from passive-aggressive comparisons between Obama and Jesse Jackson, to remarks tinged with racism when he spoke in front of an all-white Pennsylvania audience. I was seething; my eyes burned. This is worse than the blue dress and the cigar, I growled.
Then there was the suffering I endured just a few short months ago, during a nasty campaign cycle that reached epically dangerous proportions when Sarah Palin arrived on scene.
Obsessed with Team Obama's handling of the ruthless red camp attacks, I cried and moaned every morning, slamming my fist out of fear, anger or relief, depending on the latest report. My life became a non-stop, coffee-addled review of political blogs, video ads and pundit analysis. I was turning into a madwoman. I was slipping over the edge.
Then, at long last, came November 5th: A turning point for my tear ducts, and the beginning of my recovery.
To my great relief, millions seemed to share my affliction! That day, pictures spread across the Internet confirming that almost no one – from New York to New Zealand, Tel Aviv to Tokyo, Kansas to Kenya==could hold back tears of joy over those four extraordinary words: "Barack Obama Elected President." My friends and fellow citizens were beside themselves. They were crying like babies. And I was vindicated. "Let it out!" I yelled at my laptop. "I hear you, sister! I feel it too!" I rejoiced like an evangelical minister.
It's been over two months since the election, and I'll admit that my symptoms are far from gone. As recently as Wednesday afternoon, my lower lip began trembling when, immediately following Obama's televised address to the nation about a proposed trillion-dollars in tax relief, ABC's Charlie Gibson looked straight into the camera and called him our President. Transfixed by Obama's commanding presence, he had forgotten the word "Elect." And Voila. The memory of those 17 minutes on a July night in 2004 came flooding back. Kleenex, please.
Barack Obama is about to inherit an economy in absolute crisis, a tragic reprisal of violence in the Middle East, and the worst jobless rate in sixteen years. If ever there were a time to gather my wits and regain some modicum of control over my life, it is now.
The real test of our emotional health will come when the profound sense of hope that drew millions to the voting booth in November gives way in January to inevitable delays – in fixing the economy, getting troops out of Iraq, producing sustainable green energy, and fixing our nation's broken health care system. The true challenge will be how we carry ourselves when President Obama makes a mistake far more egregious than his questionable choice for an Inauguration pastor.
Until then, I'm renting a minivan and packing it full of tissues for our road trip to Washington, D.C. And when I see Obama walk onto that podium, I'm going to weep with gratitude for all those who believed their vote would make a difference, and for those who saw in our President (Elect) – and in themselves – the prospect of a better world. I'm going to weep because I love my country. And I'm not afraid to say so, with tears in my eyes.