When the last election primaries began, I felt it was way past time for a woman president and that Hillary was the best chance. As things went on with politics as usual, I wavered. My daughter was an Obama supporter from the start. My husband had met Obama years before and was very impressed with his straight-talking and connection to people. When I read Barack Obama’s speech on race in The Chicago Tribune, I was blown away by his articulate sensitivity to such a complex and emotionally charged issue and that was that for me. I was won over.
My husband and I moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Chicago in 1976. He was just out of law school, with a new job in a law firm downtown. Chicago seemed like a place of great opportunities for both of us. We rented a small apartment in Lincoln Park, with a view of the Lincoln Park Zoo and our own sliver of Lake Michigan.
Lincoln Park in those days was an area in transition, with vacant buildings and dark, dank bars lining Clark Street, side streets of beautiful, old houses, and a few modern high-rises. Once or twice we found a drunk passed out on our front curb. The first time I went out by myself for an afternoon jog in the park, I was accosted by a young man with his pants down, wanting or offering sex. I was creeped out. The University of Michigan campus had not been such an innocent place in the early ‘70s, but I felt more intimidated and vulnerable in the big city. I learned to be wary and to wear my “city face.”
There were wonderful, cheap ethnic restaurants in walking distance. We often ate at a great Mexican dive (which was also a bowling alley) just north on Clark Street. I loved going to a place where the waiter asked if we wanted “the usual.” We could get anywhere in the city by bus, el, or walking. We parked our Ford Pinto on the street and rarely drove. It was a big, juicy, new world to explore. (Our first time walking down Broadway turned out to be the day of the Chicago Gay Pride Parade!)
I got a job right away in the immunology lab at Children’s Memorial Hospital. After a year, I applied to grad schools. The microbiology Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago offered me full tuition and a stipend. I accepted! I tried commuting from north to south Chicago. As it turned out, that year had record snow. One time in a blizzard, I was the last car allowed through before Lake Shore Drive was closed. My second year, we moved down into married student housing in Hyde Park, eventually buying a condo in a formerly elegant, corner building built in 1925 at 52nd and Greenwood that was being renovated after a fire.Along with our new neighbors we put a lot of sweat equity into that old building, creating our own community. It turns out that our former condo is a block down Greenwood Ave. from the Obama’s house, just the other side of Hyde Park Blvd. (We moved out before they moved in.) What a small world! Certainly there are many differences, but can you find all the parallels between Barack Obama and me?
Two poems to share today: one written before the election when the outcome was not certain, looking ahead. The other poem was written the morning after election day.
When it is all done,
the excruciatingly long run,
when the votes are more or less counted,
everyone will say the outcome
was inevitable and talk
of momentum and this or that
mistake or shift or mis-quote
that turned the tide,
and no one will look to the stars
or karma or alignment of planets
to explain how the once unimaginable
happened to heal or to wound yet again.
Margaret Dubay Mikus
Portrait of Barack Obama
The stars aligned
and all the planets
to make something possible
that had not been.
A courageous man stepped forward
as the chosen one.
He could move hearts
and erase doubt
with his silky tongue,
inspire hope where had been none.
And yes, change was coming.
Here was someone confident enough
to gather diverse opinion,
articulate and educated,
disciplined and real enough
to call out in the crumbling wildness
and hear resounding cries in answer.
Disaster averted at the brink of the abyss.
On the final day all who had been adversaries
included in the fold,
called together to change course,
to restore, to heal what was lost.
He took the high road
and that road took him to celebration.
And because he is who he is
at this prime moment,
and can gather and sow, reap and harvest
what he has sown, we all get
another chance to change,
to be the best in us.
What a gift!
Keep him safe, keep all around him safe.
Let him be gracefully shaped by
the experiences he has chosen.
He is tempered already in fire
seasoned by flame,
and found strong, able, and willing.
From the shadows he stepped into light
and like a meteor he rose
in plain, amazed sight
to dole out hope where was none,
to dole out hope with a generous hand.
A man of compelling vision.
And like for no other leader
the world rejoiced for one of their own
to have climbed to the mountaintop.
Not a messiah burdened by
weight of unrealistic expectation,
but a heartful man of clear vision.
Let him do the work he came for,
learn from inevitable mistakes,
grow further into his power unafraid,
acknowledging the whole of himself.
For within him lies all contradiction
laid open and resolved.
Let him go forward and
let us go forward in recognition.
A family man and
we are all included in
the embrace of that family.
All is not lost.
Roll up your sleeves,
let us begin.
Margaret Dubay Mikus