Thursday, August 28, 2008

Three Speeches

Tonight, Barak Obama will deliver his acceptance speech on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. But there is another speech that needs to be recounted: that from Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Robert Caro, Johnson's modern biographer, has an excellent piece in today's New York Times. Go on over and read it and be reminded that history is not dry and dusty but alive, vibrant, and important. And history is not just dates and events. It is people. People who made decisions, acted upon them, suffered, and triumphed.

A friend of mine laments the general malaise that seems to permeate our country nowadays. And there certainly is a lot of it. But history can help to assuage our worry. How worried were we Americans when the Civil War began? More than any of us can imagine but we prevailed. How worried were we Americans when World War II began, knowing in our heart of hearts that we would eventually get involved? Quite a bit but we prevailed. How worried were we when JFK or MLK or RFK were killed, when it seemed the very fabric of our country was being torn before our eyes? A lot but we prevailed. How about the days and weeks after Watergate led Nixon to resign or the oil crises of the 1970s or the Challenger or, for all of us, 9/11? We prevailed. That's what Americans do. Prevail, even when we seem to be in the bottom of the deepest, darkest valley.

Regardless of what they think about Barack Obama, Americans should at least be proud of themselves, their country, and the opportunities that enabled him to get where he is today. Regardless of what they think about John McCain, Americans should at least be proud that a decorated and brave soldier, who held the line in darkest despair more than most of us would, is where he is today. In America, these stories are part of our fabric. It's what makes us unique in the world. It's what makes us Americans.

It's okay to worry, fret, and bite our collective nails when we look out at the world or inside our borders and see all the bad things. We're human, after all. But never forget that, for every bad thing out there, there is also something good, a silver lining. Both qualities--the dire circumstances and the silver lining--exist together. You can't have only one.

And we have history behind us, reminding us that we will prevail. Read Caro's piece in the New York Times and remember history. The outcomes may not be exactly what everyone thinks should happen but we'll prevail. Don't get caught up with worry. As one president told us, it's morning in America. Even if it is still the gray dimness of dawn where you don't quite know what kind of day its going to be, it's still another, brand-new day. We have, within us, the power to make it whatever kind of day we want it to be. That the American heritage.

And, don't forget: as another president and a civil rights leader also told us, "We shall overcome."

No comments: