night after night, we took our places, however many of us happened to be home. we all had our props, tea mugs or ice cream alongside iterations of screens, small, smaller and smallest. as the night blackened outside the windows, one shared rectangle glowed: for the last two weeks, our portrait of the american family has been the four of us huddled around the modern-day campfire that is the tv blaring the national conventions, both of them. we take religion and politics in two flavors in this house, so we are by definition bi-partisan. because we watch knowing there is more than one brand of lens in this house (it’s the college kid who went off to school emphatically one way, came home another), we train our ears and our minds and our hearts on common ground.
it makes for truly compelling watching. no knee-jerk reactions allowed. and civility, doled out in carefully thought words, honestly asked questions, is the one abiding premise. fact-checking has become a family sport.
what compelled me the most, what i can’t get enough of, can’t stop thinking about was the oration. the power to put breath to words and bellow them across the seas of cheering (or jeering) souls in the seats of the arenas, both the Q in cleveland and the wells fargo center in philly. i found myself as rapt by the voices clearly not used to the national stage as i was by some of the ones whose road to glory and office was paved by the power to put heart and soul into political story.
i admit to tears — tears when the muslim immigrant father pulled his shiny copy of the Constitution from the pocket beneath his impeccably-pressed suit jacket. tears when his hajib-shrouded wife, the gold star mother of their fallen soldier son, stood by his side, without saying a word, looking as if this stage might be the last place in the world she wanted to be, except that deep in her heart she had a son whose story she would not let be silenced. the goosebumps began when the father, in his halting english, tinged with middle-east lilt, recounted how immediately after migrating to the u.s. from the united arab emirates he’d taken his three sons to visit the jefferson memorial. the father recited the words, the ones etched in white Georgia marble, jefferson’s words swearing “hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” that so spoke to his son, whose name was Humayun, the son who had grown up to be a soldier and who died in iraq, an army captain who charged into death to save his soldiers. on june 8, 2004, when an explosives-laced taxi barreled through the gate of the army base he was there to protect, Capt. Humayun Khan told his soldiers to hit the dirt while he ran 10 steps toward the taxi, 10 steps before the car bomb exploded. the son, who had dreamed of becoming a military lawyer, is now buried, with bronze star and purple heart, in arlington national cemetery.
in case you missed the father’s words, and the moment he pulled out his pocket-edition of the Constitution, i’ve saved it for you here.
i was covered in a whole other kind of goosebumps when michelle obama took the high road, when she spoke through the lens of a mother, a mother teaching her daughters grace and grit in equal measure, it seems. and joe biden. oh, joe! and the president, as he so often has, had me in tears, streaming-down tears.
night after night, i felt my soul rise, and my heart pick up its pace. the voices and stories, the hands trembling, even the clearing of one history-making throat, all of it drew me in, gave me reason to hope. made me think — in the recounting of deeply intimate stories from mothers of slain sons and daughters, in the rising crescendo of preachers soaked in their own perspiration — that deep in the heart of all of this is a religion not bound by party or nation. it’s the majestic, indomitable, sometimes suffering human spirit, the one that given half a chance will reach for the light, will shimmy toward the crack where the air comes in.
it’s the stories of forgiveness, it’s the stories of wives and children kissing their daddy goodbye one last time, not knowing it was the last, not till later when some terrible knock came to the door, it’s the words pinned to those unforgettable moments, those moments when the human spirit stands to be crushed, but somehow, some way, it’s not. it catches some updraft, finds courage and voice, and rises again. rises to heights it hadn’t imagined.
for the last two weeks, we’ve heard story tumbled atop story. we’ve seen glimpses of the human spirit at its most soaring, and we’ve heard visions that make us tremble in fear. it’s the quadrennial amalgam of hope and awakening. now what we need is plenty of prayer.
which voices, which stories, which moments, are the ones that linger for you?
(and a point of clarification: the kid who went off to college as president of the new trier young democrats and came home otherwise is not, repeat not, a backer of the republican presidential nominee. the kid is all about reasoned discourse, and deeply held founding principles. his respect is reserved — on both side of the aisle — for those rare few who abide by those immutable pillars of democracy.)
and, finally, yes i note the irony in just last week saying i don’t write about politics here; i’m trying to thread a very fine needle here, and divine the sacred thread of human triumph and suffering and courage and grace when it’s thrust on a national stage — yes, the national political stage. it’s a belief that beneath the bluster there is something deeply, powerfully human that must be paid serious attention. and i abstain from divisiveness.
photo credits: (top) Josh Haner for the New York Times; (parents of Capt. Humayun Khan) Damon Winter for the New York Times
I cried right along with you.I am voting for Hillary. Her courage and unending resolve for children and women’s rights is dear to my heart. Thank you Bam for writing from the heart.
amen. bless YOU for reading, and responding straight from the heart. xoxo
Like so many, I was also in tears much of this week and surprisingly moved by the nomination itself. How I wish we could vote next Tuesday and not have to endure the next three months of ugliness.
double amen to that! to wishing we could vote tuesday! i love that idea. especially getting to skip the vitriol and ridiculousness sure to come…..
The first convention was too much of a deranged carnival barker and an audience poisoned by his snake oil. The second was filled with dignity, emotion, humor, love of family, respect for this country and its citizens, and such memorable moments as “God help us,” “I know a con,” “I will gladly lend you my copy,” “a man you can bait with a tweet…,” and most of Michelle’s speech. But the one that struck me most was not scripted, was almost lost under his breath, as President Obama commented on the boos for Trump with, “Don’t boo, vote.”
i love the lines you remember. i’ve memorized the same litany…..”I will gladly lend you my copy…..” what a line, what a moment, what dignity….
Thank you Do you think many people have read the declaration or constitution recently? Since 11th grade civics? We have a pocket size copy of them in the coffee table in the living room. Once a snarky guest, thinking she was cute, asked if they were old passports to tell about out travels. Nope. They tell a different story. Every July 4, I read a bit to the kids. And this year,mar the wedding,mothers was a declaring taped to the wall. It’s not our history it’s our current.
Andrea Lavin Solow Sent from my iPad
i love that you read a bit every fourth of july. i re-read when Will was writing his thesis, and i was blown away. pretty wild that Khzir Khan has us all pulling out our Constitutions today…..
What a story of a family watching both conventions!! I, too, watched both so I could be fair in my conversations. However, in the first I heard anger, fear, hate and vitriol. In the second I was moved to tears (several times), awed, inspired, and proud to be American, and I heard hope. Khan, Michelle, Joe B and, of course, Obama, inspired me in ways I have no words for yet. I can only pray right now. How brave you were to blog about the conventions!! “The divine in me bows to the divine in you.”
indeed, i was riveted by both, and i am riveted by every turn in this election season. there have been glimpses of the human spirit that so profoundly inspire me, and there have been others that leave me trembling. your last line says it best: may we all always see and bow to the divine in all of us. and remember that it’s there……
All I can do is listen and watch and weep and hope and pray for goodness and peace and unity and love to prevail. xoxo
and hope and pray……my shoe leather might be itching to get in the act, as well…..considering. in the meantime, praying right along with you…..xoxox
Both conventions made me weep, for many different reasons. I am so sad for our country. Our nation’s motto says that out of many we are one. But right now we are so divided. It makes me afraid that we will never again find our true North Star. And no one, no one, touches a gold star family with anything but respect and reverence and thankfulness. I am absolutely aghast. Thank you for writing this, bam. Thank you for shining the light.
maybe that’s why you and i often turn to the night sky, where the original North Star never moves. i’m going to pray we find the north star. and muster the courage to graciously point the ways when we feel so compelled. i write “ways” plural because i know there is more than one path, and what matters is that we find it, as long as we take the high road…..
Read this in the NYT mag article last Sunday by Teju Cole and it made me think of you. “The duty of critical writing is to listen to the noise of life without being deafened by it.”
That just took my breath away….wow. Thank you for bringing that to the table. Consider it memorized.