Tuesday, I had my second treatment and all went well. I have had the usual reaction this week – not feeling the best, but managing quite well. I go off the prednisone drug today, so I begin my more difficult week soon.
Also on Tuesday, Barak Obama was re-elected. The prednisone allowed me to stay awake for much of the election coverage. Small blessing (perhaps) of the treatment! I was completely taken by the election, a fact that amuses and intrigues me since I am not an American. I am pleased about the outcome. Like for many, Obama has not lived up to my high expectations. The environment has taken a back burner to the economy, he is more of a war president than I am comfortable with, etc. I recognize however, that he has had some major accomplishments especially health care reform, and that the system within which he works is dysfunctional and very problematic. Perhaps he is doing the best he can. I cannot be the judge of this.
Most of all though, I feel pride for African Americans, and appreciate the role model that the Obamas present. This pride is rooted in the fact that I lived four years in the majority black country of Jamaica, and almost as long on a Canadian Native reserve, but also in my experience of the Kennedys as role models for me in my formative years.
I was four years old when President John Kennedy was elected, and seven when he died. While I do not remember the election, I clearly remember his presidency and his death. We had the day off of our parochial school (grade 2) for the funeral. I was more politically aware when Robert Kennedy ran for the Democratic primary. I have to think twice about who our prime ministers and governors general were at this time, except I know that George Vanier was the GG. What is the common thread between these three men? They were Catholic, and were the first Catholics to hold their positions.
The Kennedys, and to some extent the Vaniers, were role models. The Kennedys lived in Massachusetts where a number of my relatives lived. They had come a long way from the days of signs which stated “No Irish Need Apply.” They represented what was possible for Catholics, especially Irish Catholics.
My parents had grown up in rural poverty (though my mother said that they never thought of themselves as poor, because all their neighbours lived the same.) We lived in a society where Catholics had less political and economic power than others. My father, a potato inspector, had a weekly salary all year around, and we were taught to not take this for granted and understand the gift that it was. My parents’ dream was that all of their children would have a university education, and live better than they did – The Canadian/American dream. The Kennedys represented this possibility. I could identify with Robert Kennedy especially, the father of 11 children about the same age of the children of my large family. (Imagine the White House with 11 kids in it!) Later, I realized how his genuine commitment to the poor, to human rights, the civil rights movement etc. was rooted in Catholic social teaching.
My parents shared the enthusiasm for the Kennedys that other Catholics (perhaps especially Irish Catholics) also had. Our parish priest, Msgr. O’Hanley, had a photo of JFK in his office. I remember the discussions my parents had with their friends about the Kennedys in our living room. The early morning phone call from our neighbour, Mrs. Driscoll, stating that we must turn on the television because Robert F. Kennedy was shot, is instilled on my mind.
The Kennedys suffered greatly for their service. As with Martin Luther King, not all the Americans could handle what they represented at that time. It would be later that I was to learn that the Kennedys had their warts too, and the pedestal has been removed. Yet, I am still captured by the Kennedys, and it cannot be denied the importance that they played in my youth of showing the possibilities for people of my sub-culture. I feel called to live more simply rather than wealth now (oh, it is a long process!), but the service to the common good and justice that they modelled is still alive for me today. The Obamas too, are not perfect. But, the role that they are playing to inspire a whole new generation of youth pleases me at a very deep level. I yearn now for a woman prime minister (or president) to inspire my twelve nieces and five grand-nieces!