McCain, Obama, and Ozymandias

Memo: to myself (and maybe you)

Re: Tomorrow (and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow)

Tonight, I am thinking what a nice thing it would be to sit with a few tall glasses of Jim Beam with a little water. I would sip it while I flipped from CNN to MSNBC to Fox (for a brief moment) to Headline News, and back again, and forward again, as I was bringing up  huffingtonpost and Drudge Report (for a moment) and The sipping would get faster, though; a few glasses would turn into a few more and tomorrow morning, if that were to happen, would be the beginning  of a bleary-eyed, head-aching, and stomach-churning day. (And the end of the 15 year chip due me at the end of November!)

And as much as I would like to calm the politically intriguing questions I have and assuage the  pessimism-born anxieties of this night, I want to be as alert, focused, and aware tomorrow as my ADD, informationally-overloaded mind will allow me to be.

It’s a tension filled dichotomy for me right now. I am optimistic about Obama’s polling numbers, genuinely inspired- even profoundly moved- by the dedication of my children and so many other young adults who have worked so hard for Obama on so many levels, and I celebrate the incredible mind-opening that has happened among many millions of people regarding race in this country.

The politics of race is, as of this election,  a dead dinosaur. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! But the beast has just died. It is still kicking in the throes of death and there is the horrible stink of rotting flesh still to come. That’s why the rubber band of my nervous system is about to snap. That’s what I would artificially be loosening tonight with the too-often-thought-of half a fifth of Beam. I can’t/won’t do that (don’t worry!).

So I will watch the returns tomorrow night in a hope I have allowed to grow faster than is normally good for me. I will pray that a majority of undecided voters in the light blue and light red states will feel the Image of God pulsing in them tomorrow with greater urgency than the viral human disease of racism when they stand alone in the polling booth.

And I will remember this poem. Lines from it pop into my mind with frequency of late, as I battle with the demons of hope, and anger, and speculation that this long campaign have caused to be more active in me than usual. “Ozymandias” was published in 1818 by the poet Percy Shelley. It is about the transitory nature of civilizations, human power, and human identity.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

About half of us believe tonight that it is imperative that McCain be elected president of the United States tomorrow. And a little more than half of us (I hope!) believe the same about Obama. But, taking the long and sometimes necessary view, we must realize and accept that a thousand years from now, their names and our names will not be remembered. And while some of us humans believe we will be walking for eternity on the golden streets of the New Jerusalem while others of us believe we will be spending eternity in bed with forty virgins, the reality of our physical and wordly existence says that the dust of earth will not only be blowing over our long-obscured graves but that, in fact, we will be part of that dust!

The knees of the known world bent in unison at one time, at the mere mention of Shelley’s Ozymandias. His name, breathed in fear and heard in trembling, was an eternal, everlasting to everlasting name! But time, but time, but time…Time always has the final say. No matter how loudly we shout them and no matter how deeply we engrave our names or the names of our heroes in temporal granite, the winds of time, filled with the buffeting dust of our ancestors, will eventually blow those names away. Along with the civilizations they rode in on.

Oh my, how I look forward to tomorrow evening! But, hopeful or despairing as the evening turns out to be, I must be aware, as a part of an always-continuing Creation, that “the lone and level sands stretch faraway.” This, too, however good it is, however bad it is, shall pass.

3 thoughts on “McCain, Obama, and Ozymandias

  1. Barry,

    Nicely put, it does us well to remember the impermanence of our work and our desires. But today I cannot begin to describe the redemption or exhilaration I feel, feelings that I wish could last forever.

    I had two experiences yesterday that begging your indulgence I would share with you.

    The first was when I took my 93 year-old neighbor to the polls to vote. I cannot begin to describe how I felt standing with a man who had voted for FDR, Truman, and Kennedy and who was now voting for Obama. He said that he couldn’t believe that he lived long enough to see a black man elected president. “never in my lifetime would I have dared thought” was how he put it.

    The second was last night, which I spent with friends and strangers at a club in one of the ghetto neighborhoods of my fair city, an organizing point for Obama supporters during the campaign.

    Being a long-time democratic committee person, I could have watched the returns with the party hoi polloi, donors and hangers-on at an expensive hotel downtown, or at home in my chair with my own bottle of Beam.

    But there I stood at 11 o’clock, stunned, while CNN called the election for Obama. I exchanged hugs and shed tears of joy with total strangers and close friends, all us who worked our hearts out for Obama.

    It was then that the promise of an Obama presidency truly became clear to me. This wasn’t about Obama, or race, or power or even winning, this all about us.

    I could not imagine another place I would have rather been, and no people I would have rather been with.

    So while in time us and all we do will turn to dust, for now I’ll savor the memory of this day and the joy of the camaraderie discovered along what has truly been an amazing journey.


  2. Steve.. Those are the kinds of experiences that have made this election so different, and so important. We have voted for a new president, yes, but in doing so our worldviews have been changed, I think and you confirm, for the better!

    The memories of this day are to be savored; they are the seeds which can continue to grow and bear fruit for so many people still to be born. There are new fields of possibility germinating today that we who are alive today will not enjoy all of the fruit from; others, in time, will. But what a joy it is to know, right now, that we have done something well! It’s not just about Obama, and that’s the cool part of this. We ALL get to see each other differently, and are able now (God, I hope) to embrace each other more quickly!


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