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Obama’s Message is a Challenge

February 9, 2009

By Mary Donovan

In everybody’s life there’s stuff you want to do, stuff you ought to do, stuff you think you ought to do and stuff you have to do. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the stuff you have to do because a whole lot of pressures give one or another of the other options gratuitous importance.

I thought of this shortly after the inauguration when I read a column by New York Times writer, Judith Warner . It was called, “Stopping to Answer Obama’s Call.’’ The call she answered was in a statement by the new president in his inauguration speech.

He said, “It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.’’

These words had flung themselves at me through the TV screen and over the roars of the multitudes. They stuck in my mind as being enormously important. I had heard no comments about them from the talking heads or read of them from the columnists – until Ms. Warner.

She described her hopes for Inauguration Day. It was to be a day crammed with the stuff of memory books – the mother would share history with her two young daughters; the writer would observe, take notes, and send her concise, insightful reflections to her paper in the afternoon so the celebratory and carefree Democrat could attend a ball in the evening.

But things didn’t happen that way. Oh, she and her daughters went to the big event. They stood in the Washington Mall with hundreds of others watching the distant events on a huge screen. They waved flags and cheered. But the girls bickered, the cold discouraged them. As they left the Mall they were stuck in a tunnel between two chain link fences with thousands of other people for almost an hour. The younger daughter became hysterical and could only be comforted clutched in her mother’s arms.

Ms. Warner said she abandoned all thoughts of writing, let alone reflecting. As she put it, she surrendered to Emilie. She focused on getting away from the crowds and the action to some quiet place to get something to eat. The older daughter had gone off with friends, so it was mother and little girl, “just the two of us.’’ Ms. Warner said she took comfort in Obama’s words as she left the show and the excitement to comfort her daughter.

They had a lovely lunch in one of those restaurants where there are photographs of dignitaries along the walls. Many of these were of presidential couples, some of other prominent people. All of them were white. And there she found the synthesis of this particular inauguration.

“Why are there no black faces?’’ said the little girl.

Ms. Warner said she explained about the distribution of power in America and how up to now that power was held by white people. But that was changing, she said. She explained that soon there would be a photograph of a black president and first lady on the wall.

The little girl thought that was good and the mother agreed.

So, I don’t know where that gets us, beyond the fact that Obama was certainly not talking only about firemen or parents. He was talking about everybody, because everybody has something important to do. If we can find out what that is and do it, the doing will indeed decide our fate.
The little girl thought that was good and the mother agreed.

So, I don’t know where that gets us, beyond the fact that Obama was certainly not talking only about firemen or parents. He was talking about everybody, because everybody has something important to do. If we can find out what that is and do it, the doing will indeed decide our fate.

Mary Donovan is a freelance writer for The Catholic Free Press.

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