When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars।
I neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly,
I neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly,
for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door।
And if the earth no longer knows your name,
Whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing।
To the flashing water say: I am।
---Rainer Maria Rilke
This peculiar title doesn't mean I advocate for Michelle Obama in place of Barack। It just means Mrs। Obama came to our town yesterday afternoon and took the place by storm। It means if we can vote Barack Obama into the Presidency, we get a package that includes a lovely family and this remarkable woman for First Lady। I hadn't studied the matter, knew nothing about her except those couple of media things, and was unprepared totally for one of the greatest addresses of any kind I've ever heard.
I was pretty much resigned to Athens, Ohio, being the place the candidate spouses come to visit। Hillary Clinton was here stumping for her husband back in the day, and now the former president showed up earlier in the week to give an energetic speech for her। I'd wanted to see Barack Obama before our primary next week, but I learned all we would get was a look at his wife. Oh well, my daughter and I went to stand in line.
The Templeton-Blackburn Auditorium---or Mem Aud, as it used to be called---holds a couple thousand people, so I thought if we got there an hour early we might at least get inside out of the cold। No tickets required, a quick frisk, and we soon were in the 12th row। The place has a magnificent sound system and mostly soul tunes from the '60s were banging away. Well you can't beat that stuff, and so pretty soon everybody was groovin'. Smiles began to appear, and as I looked around I realized I hadn't been in an audience of such racial, age, and gender mix maybe ever.
On stage was a bunch of people, but no obvious dignitaries or union T-shirts। My daughter said she heard folks were chosen at random to go up there। The active volunteers were being afforded the front rows as usual. The auditorium filled up completely from what I could see, and I suppose I'll read reports as to whether any were turned away or a sound system set up outside. A barrage of TV cameras, reporters, anchors and photographers was in the usual cluster.
We waited---but the hits kept on coming, so who cares? The spirit of hope and expectation was in the air। People looked happy but serious. We're not gonna get fooled again! The black woman next to me kept checking her watch. I heard her say she had kids that needed to be picked up. As it got to be 5 minutes past the hour, she said out loud, "They oughta have SOMEbody come out." I didn't want my first words to her to be discouraging, having waited hours at things like this, so I asked, "Do you know where she's coming from?" She didn't. But 5 minutes after that, out came the first of 2 introductory speakers...and we were off!
Michelle Obama is a tall, powerful woman, with a surprising confidence and a completely engaging speaking style। Except to remind her of local names she wanted to thank, she spoke without notes...and gave us an hour of compelling personal history and Obama platform. She had us in the palm of her hand the whole time in a speech that was intricate in organization and almost completely positive. Mrs. Obama made it clear the situation her husband seeks to change---and that's the big word---has developed in the United States under both political parties. She did indicate the present administration has played upon fear and encouraged personal isolation...but everybody knows that and hardly could be labeled negative campaigning.
She spoke of growing up on Chicago's difficult South Side, where her father held a modest city blue collar job and her mother stayed home to be there for the 2 kids। Mom did finally go to work when the children finished public school to get them through college. We couldn't help but be moved when she mentioned again and again a barrier that has developed in America in so many areas of discouragement and you-can't-do-that and don't-even-try. But she did try anyway, and that meant Princeton and then Harvard Law.
Barack Obama's story is more commonly known---but apparently not well enough, given the ongoing stuff about his name and religion and national origin---so she told it again briefly। What she emphasized is that with Barack's Harvard Law degree, departmental honors, and as first black editor of the Harvard Law Journal, he could have gone anywhere on Wall Street and corporate America and made millions. But instead he went to Chicago to help neighborhood organizing efforts in a city where steel had shut down. He thought legislating could help and began to run for office. No millions at hand (she mentioned they both just have finished paying off their college loans) he wrote a couple books that have helped finance him.
When we were done, I had a sense of what has brought a million contributors like me to open our wallets and help this campaign keep rolling। When you're on your feet cheering with 2000 other people---mostly students!---you even get a feeling this could be a tidal wave. But the Obamas know better...and so there's plenty of encouragement to volunteer: to go vote early right now, and then get on down to the campaign office and sign up for the phone banks and the door-to-door and Primary Day work. There is no resting on any past success. This change they talk about is all work...and they aren't kidding.
Bush gave a press conference yesterday morning in which he said the economy is fine and there's no recession in sight। (More bad intelligence, George?) Barack Obama had a rebuttal 5 minutes later. John McCain the day before declared he'd never go down the Obama "road of defeat" in Iraq because Al Qaeda is there. Obama was on it immediately with the reminder Al Qaeda wasn't there until Bush and McCain misled the nation into war. This man is fast, brilliant and assertive. He doesn't wait to see what the media will do or if some attack just will go away. He answers them face to face. He's getting headlines arguing with Bush and McCain...while, I must say, Hillary Clinton seems to spend time trying to figure out who she should be next.
Michelle Obama seemed every bit the match for her remarkable husband. I'm trying not to imagine if they ever get in a fight at home. It was one of those things where my daughter and I had to get down to the stage and as close as possible to this potential First Lady. Imagine the statement to the country if these people are nominated. Imagine what America might look like to the world again with this First Family in the White House. As I walked up the aisle and out of the auditorium, I saw a man I know of my own generation lingering in the back watching continued greetings and hugs up on the stage. He was beaming, and when he saw me he smiled. I said, "I haven't felt like this in 40 years!" He said, "Me too."