|Yes, we can|
Recently, on the horse statue on Highway 92 heading into town, I noticed a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. that stood out on the horse’s left side. Clear against the white paint.
That reminder of a mountain climbed resonates now. While any inauguration ushers in a new era, that bar was raised high when Barack Obama raised his right hand. A whole new chapter of history unfurled, and we know it will go on being written.
Think of it: a black man elected president. Unimaginable, until now. When I was growing up in the 1960s, the word “nigger” was common. It stopped a lot of people from making contributions, let alone living their lives, back then.
Now, of course, that word has sunk to its deservedly low place in our lexicon.
King involved Lincoln in his immortal Aug. 28, 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech, which set forth the timeless ideals of equality and brotherhood. Obama’s campaign, with its “Yes we can” theme brought another ideal into focus: possibility, available for all. We’ve got brain cells, lifetimes, talents and perceptions we are born with or polish during our lives, and we can do something with them. We settle for one level while there’s room for much more. With self-determination, perseverance, discipline and support, and OK, a break or two, anyone can become whatever’s in them to become. Just by sitting at a desk in the Oval Office, Obama proves that’s true for all.
I see mental images of chains snapping, vast figurative doors swinging open wide. Who knows what lies beyond? Who knows what we can do? Who will dare? We’re born with limits, but they don’t have to shackle us unless we choose to let them. We face problems like the economy, hunger, health care, environmental debilitation, need for broader education, but we dare to dream of ways out. Yes we can. More than a glib campaign tagline, that’s a call to action, a reminder that indeed we can though it may not be easy. Three words with firepower to move mountains, like other literary triads such as “I love you” or “We the people.” It’s in our power. We can do it. Scary stuff, isn’t it?
But there’s a disclaimer. Doors may open but there’s a price for putting your foot over the threshold.
With freedom comes responsibility -- something else fast growing muddy in our social fabric. We try to wiggle out of it but it’s there, if you want to live right.
Reaching for possibility with eyes on the prize only carries with it a mirror by which to measure ourselves. Do we have compassion to help someone else reach their fullest? Are we big enough to exercise social respect? We see what we can do, but can we do it wisely? We have to dig deep because responsibility ultimately must be maintained from within.
I once saw a documentary film in which an elderly Sioux Indian discussed current American culture, specifically the extent to which hikers and skiers claimed it their inalienable right to flock up hills that were his people’s sacred places. They had that right, of course. But the Sioux elder lamented that “This is a ‘rights’ society. Not a ‘responsibility’ society.” I never forgot that.
“In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds,” King wrote in his iconic speech. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” While he was referring to the violence sadly necessary to obtain civil rights, what he was saying can be transcribed to the challenge to reach for our full potentials with compassion, wisdom, awareness – and unity.
“We have a stake in one another,” Obama writes in his “The Audacity of Hope.” “What binds us together is greater than what drives us apart … if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.”
Even before he took office, Obama gave America the gift of a reminder that possibility is ripe. I hope we are ready to pluck it wisely.
Yes, we can.