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What a world!

I received an email from my sister-in-law the other day, saying we ought to boycott the Olympics because of China’s outrageous attacks on Tibet…again. I agree with her about the need to boycott the upcoming Olympics that are to be held in China, for no inhumane treatment of another human being should ever be tolerated anywhere by anyone. We should always take a stand that says, “No, you do not get to do this to me, to them, to anyone. You do not get to harm people and benefit from it in any way.”

I have cried a great deal in the past years over Tibet, Iraq, Abu Graib, abuse, unnecessary death. And just in this past week, the tears welled over into this amazing epiphanic outrage over the things we do in our world, but particularly, over our American role in this inhumane treatment of others. What struck me so profoundly, as it did others, was the Easter Week so-called “Race Speech” given by Senator Barack Obama.

I like Senator Obama. I think he’s a good man who's caught in a hustler’s world. So I listened with great attention to every word he said, watching him on a screen that showed a tight shot of this good man’s caramel-colored face, his heavily hooded eyes, his lean shoulders, flanked on the left by the American flag, his head tossing back and forth as he spoke. I wanted to hear him, really HEAR his words, understand them. And I did. And I cried.

I cried for all of us and our greed and our loss and what really is our true potential. But mostly I cried because this man who wants to be president of the United States spoke from the heart to and about ALL of us. I cried because I wished I could say what he did, that I love our country, the way he says he does; I cried because, these days, I cannot say this. The inhumanity to other humans of the world by the people in our country leads the way these days. And I can’t seem to get back to that love of country, a place I once knew.

But there’s more to it than that.

As Obama spoke about the truth of what our country has done and could do with regard to racial tensions, about the horrific acts of the past, the hard work and the divisiveness of the present, he also spoke of a sort of forgiveness that could lead the way into a better future. Oh, not overtly; that isn’t Obama’s way, but forgiveness was there. I saw it in his face and heard it in his words.

Toward the end of his speech, he related the story of a 9-year-old girl whose mother had gotten cancer and had gone bankrupt over medical bills. He told of this young girl who thought that they needed one thing above all else to sustain them, and that that was what they should spend the meager money they had on: food...and particularly…a mustard-and-relish sandwich.

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At the mention of this mustard-and-relish sandwich, I felt totally connected to the world of America that Obama spoke about. I remembered it, and I totally broke down in tears. My mind and heart fell back 50 years to my own childhood when, after having been locked in a bedroom for two days by my mother, after defecating out the window, too scared to leave the room for fear of the beating I'd get, our next-door neighbor rescued me and my three siblings. Betty removed the screen and pulled us one-by-one through that bedroom window, took us into her home, gave us baths, and fed us what was to be a first for any of us: a sandwich with real mayonnaise, lettuce, and meat; we'd always had nothing but peanut butter, ever.

So when Obama told this “mustard-and-relish sandwich” story, I slipped into my 9-years-old childhood pain at the hands of a mother who finally and thankfully left, and who eventually died from cancer in 1983, a mother I reunited with after 23 years, a mother I took care of as she died. And I learned about life and love and forgiveness. In the process of a 10-month reunion with my mother, I learned that in her own early life, she had known only the pain of abuse and neglect. I learned that that was ALL she could give to us in our early life because she'd never been able to get over her human abuse, to get to forgiveness.

As I listened to Obama, I went to that place in childhood when I didn't know, when I needed my mother. But this time, I went there with my mother who I had long ago forgiven, and once again, I wept inconsolably for her loss and neglect, my loss and neglect, our country's loss and neglect. And in the process of this paralyzing grief, I prayed that this man of heart and immense substance, Barack Obama, son of a black man and a white mother, this man who continues to love America, even at this uncertain time in history, would not lose, would not get hurt.

Then the epiphany came.

I realized that Barack Obama cannot lose, that even if he does lose the nomination and the election, he will have lost nothing, for all along the way, Obama has worked from the position of that great love and forgiveness; he has addressed the issues without slinging mud at anyone, and has always spoken the truth, honoring himself and others. He can be no other way; he is what America should be and can be. And we all win for having had the privilege to learn from him, regardless of the losses, the pains, the uncertainties.

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So, on this Easter Sunday 2008, I do think about Tibet, I pray for the Dalai Lama, for the strength of his wise and compassionate decisions, and I pray for our country and this world. I pray that we all garner a loving and forgiving heart and strive to be honorable and humane through every moment of our short lives.




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Professor Nan Fandel teaches communications in Iowa. She is also a journalist who has been an op-ed columnist for the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper. (more...)

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