When Barack Hussein Obama won the election in 2008, I became gripped with an irrational fear that he would be assassinated before he could take the Oath of Office.
Each morning I clicked the radio dial with an increasingly shaky hand. I closed my eyes and eased the dial to the local public radio station, holding my breath. As the announcer’s voice began to read the headlines of the day, I wrapped my arms around my still-plump body, shivering with the overwhelming certainty that I would be draping a black shawl around my shoulders to mourn the execution of what would have been America’s first African-American president.
Even tonight, as he spoke his words of farewell to us, I shuddered with the fear that some fanatic would rise from the bleachers in McCormick Place and prematurely end the life of a man who has done so much, and meant so much, and endured so much.
But the moment passed, just as the other days of his two terms in office slipped away.
He gave his speech with dignity, and humor, and tears which fell unrestrained when he gazed on his elegant, gracious wife and one of his two lovely daughters. He looked out on thousands who cherish the work which he has led and he gave his thanks to them. He brought us together under the title of “citizen”.
I know that he has his detractors but I am not one of them. President Obama has taken our country from recession to a firmer resilience than we have felt in this century, and he has acquitted himself with a profoundly noble style. He has not overlooked the differences which splinter us, but he has appealed to the common values which we share. He has asked us to embrace what we all believe, to recognize the goals that bind us, and to forgive the differences which threaten to diminish us.
I am not that strong. I am not that bold. I am not that generous. But I will try, because of President Barack Hussein Obama. I take my inspiration from him, just as he drew his own inspiration from the rest of us, during his long journey to this unprecedented, bittersweet moment in the history of our great nation.
Some of my favorite words from tonight’s speech:
“It …is that spirit born of the enlightenment that made us an economic powerhouse. The spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral, the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket, it’s that spirit. A faith in reason and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, that allowed us to build a post-World War II order with other democracies.
“An order based not just on military power or national affiliations, but built on principles, the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion and speech and assembly and an independent press.
“No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that’s part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.
“So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight.
“Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning — with our participation, and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge.
“Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law, that’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”
THANK YOU, PRESIDENT OBAMA.
YOU’VE INSPIRED ME TO STRIVE TO BE A BETTER CITIZEN.