Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bringing the Past Back to Life

A post-inaugural cartoon in my local paper showed Barack Obama entering his new office, where George Washington is pulling the desk chair back so he can sit. A recent cover of the New Yorker is a portrait of Washington, complete with white wig, but with Obama's brown face replacing Washington's. The day before the inauguration Obama retraced Abraham Lincoln's epic train ride of 150 years ago from Philadelphia to Washington, and the following day he was sworn into office on Lincoln's Bible.

At every junction Obama has proposed that the dream of our fathers is alive in our time--reiterating that the gift of freedom, justice, and equality for all on which this country was founded is the legacy we are carrying forward. His very presence on the world stage seems to reverse all the dark forces that in recent years have so badly sullied this legacy. With Obama as president, America gets to honor its republic again as a sacred treasure; we find ourselves rescued from the wicked hands of tricksters and mind monkeys who did not respect either truth or the public interest. Now, amazing as it is, we get to brush the dust from our white shoes. As Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times this weekend:

" I’ve seen charismatic politicians and pretty families come and go like sunrises and sunsets over the years. There was something more that was making people go ga-ga over Obama. Something deeper.

We’ve been watching that something this week, and it’s called leadership. Mr. Obama has been feeding the almost desperate hunger in this country for mature leadership, for someone who is not reckless and clownish, shortsighted and self-absorbed.

However you feel about his policies, and there are people grumbling on the right and on the left, Mr. Obama has signaled loudly and clearly that the era of irresponsible behavior in public office is over...This has been the Obama way, to set a responsible example and then to call on others to follow his mature lead."

After so many years of living in shame, in deceit, with our hearts and our country's reputation fallen on the ground and the people being unable to lift them up again, this new beginning feels like a miracle. What on earth happened? How did we get so lucky? Idly, as is often my wont, I decide to ask the Thesaurus for an answer to these questions. Opening and pointing at randon, once again it doesn't fail me:

"Win the jackpot, break the bank, make a killing; regain, redeem, recover one's losses; balance the books, receive a legacy, step into the shoes of, be the heir of; restoration, redemption."

"I believe that the energy fields of the founding fathers are back," states Caroline Myss, "and that America is on a respirator, as well as its vision." I've been listening to her audiobook, "The Sacred Contract of America," which I received as a Christmas present a few weeks ago. It was first released in September 2007, I should note, well before full-frontal Obamania was launched. Myss believes that nations (like individuals) have sacred contracts. Ours, scripted by the founding fathers into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is about rising to ever new levels freedom, equality, and self-governance. The birth of America's sacred contract emerged when the early settlers first came here and glimpsed a potential for freedom and self-governance not found in any other societies with a history of long rule by oppressive aristocracies; nor can such freedom be found in tribal nations who can't forgive the wounds that have become their history and their story. It is unique to Americans to have the freedom to revolt against the government if it doesn't represent them.

9/11, according to Myss, was our country's wounding, and immediately became our challenge and our choice--of how to step in to the global chaos: whether to transcend the right of vengeance and instead extend freedom and equality even to nations we don't like, or to violate our sacred contract. Myss claims that at this critical juncture, we lost our backbone and went into self-servingness. As Obama recently put it in his inaugural address, we threw our ideals overboard in the name of security.

This loss of our exemplary role--in Myss's words the defiling of our sacred contract as a country "saturated with light"--is surely what people mean, whether knowingly or not, when they say that "our country is on the wrong track." People know in their hearts that something is very wrong, even if they would not be able to articulate it in these terms.

So, as I began to hear what Myss was saying, I felt this ecstatic infusion of resonance: it was as if Obama were jumping off the CD and making her words manifest. Most likely he has never heard of Carolyn Myss or ever listened to these tapes, but the resemblance, at least to me, is nothing less than uncanny--not least because of the way Obama has caused the spirit of the founding fathers to reappear again in a new guise, as if they were indeed whispering in his ear.

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