When History Spanks
Where were you when that incredible thing happened? How will you respond?
You really only get a handful, a smattering, maybe three or four per lifetime if you're lucky or blessed or just so happen to be paying the right kind of deeper karmic attention.
Historic events, I mean. Major shifts, upheavals, great leaps forward, the Thing That Changed Everything.
Do you notice? Do you care? When history walks up and slaps you upside the head with a megadose of human drama wrapped in shiny evolutionary paper, do you do anything about it? Offer thanks? Hold a ceremony? Join in?
Do you, at the very least, pause in your day and take a deep breath and say oh my God, would you look at that, the world is shifting right this very moment like I've never experienced before, and I can feel it rumbling beneath my feet hang on hang on oh holy hell hang on?
I'm here to suggest: Maybe you should.
Right now is a prime example. Right now might be a good time to pause and step back for a moment, blink a few times as you note how the momentous event that is this very election just so happens to be of the very kind that can change the timbre and tone not merely of our flawed and broken nation, but the entire planet. Such is the attention, such is the energetic reach. Rare and precious indeed.
To say it outright: I think President Obama will be just such a shift, an extraordinary marker, a type and flavor of history that we as preternaturally jaded humans rarely get to experience anymore. Pule all you like about how this election is really just business-as-usual politicking and all candidates are ghastly empty-suited shills and nothing ever changes, as you somehow ignore the massive firestorm of electric possibility passing right over your sad and jaded little head.
The fact remains, the sheer volume of expansive energy surrounding Obama's run has been absolutely astonishing, a global outpouring of positive interest and awareness like almost no other leader, no other potential slap of progress we've experienced in modern American history. From the international headlines down to the forgotten corners of our own culture we normally never hear from, the message is the same: Something is about to upend. Something seems like it's about to give way. And the good news is, we might finally be ready.
You might say: Oh please, it's a major U.S. election. Everything is a little historic right now. Everything is amplified and every little political twist has a special tang of time and gravitas.
Hell, you might argue that, infuriating ditzball or not, even Sarah Palin is historic. Not because she's rumored to be an actual woman on a GOP national ticket, but because she is such an incredible icon of inanity, every bit the insufferable, pseudo-folksy con-artist she is satirized to be.
And yet here she is, closer than any woman in history to sneaking into the White House without the slightest clue as to how she got there or what to do when the door opens. In short: Sarah Palin is historic because she makes Dan Quayle look like a f--king genius.
And what about John McCain? Really, who else in American electoral history had his first presidential run destroyed by some of the nastiest, most repulsive smear tactics imaginable, and then turned around and hires the same vile, cold-blooded tacticians to try and disgrace his opponent?
The historic part? When this is all over, these Rove-trained dung-flingers will have destroyed this once-dignified war hero not once, but twice. Once from the outside by attacking his honor, and once by eating him alive from within, with his own endorsement. Historically pitiable, is what it is.
It doesn't stop there. Clearly, we've suffered a fetid, steaming pile of history of the ugliest and most barbed kind for the past eight solid years. Does that kind of history count, the sour and oppressive and dark? You bet it does.
So perhaps we need to reframe. Perhaps we need to make some sort of open-throated distinctions between the kind of historic events we're dealing with, so if and when the Obama presidency rolls in, we may better appreciate and take hold and, well, roll right along with it.
So then. I say we're being asked, right now, to understand that there are, in fact, two fundamental kinds of history. The first is the most common, the type we've grown pathetically used to, the type that soils the spirit and stabs us in the back as it takes down office towers and induces war and misprision and wallows in nearly unbearable quantities of fear. We get that a lot.
The second kind is perhaps the most rare of all. This is the history that comes around only once or twice per generation, that emerges from somewhere deep and urgent to move us forward; it's a kind that invites growth and sparks surprisingly constructive feelings in everyone and everything it touches. Do you recognize that kind? Right. Me neither. Until now.
And now here it is, in the form of this Obama fellow, this rare and extraordinary flavor of history, this impossible thing, right on our doorstep, awaiting our vote, merely asking us if we're ready. Are we?
© 2008 San Francisco Chronicle