Thursday, March 12, 2009

Imported Words

If right about now, you could use a taste of 11/4/08, I have a paragraph for ya. I came across it shortly after I'd posted my own thoughts about that phenomenon: Election Night, '08. I opened the Winter edition of the Barnard alumnae magazine. (It had been waiting patiently for a week or three on my living room coffee table.) Right up front was a stunning description by the college's new president, of what she'd encountered in the Barnard-Columbia neighborhood that night.

I'm honored to place it, with permission, right below, directly above my post on the topic. Think of it as an eyewitness report worth saving for your grandkids, as filed by Dr. Debora Spar.

" . . . My kids and I . . . sat glued to the television from the moment the pundits began opining. When the results were called, less than a second after California's polls closed, we heard a spontaneous roar break out along Broadway. Without thinking, my son and I dashed out the door and headed for the street. Outside the gates of Barnard, a huge crowd had already formed. People were screaming and crying, hugging strangers, and dancing along the pavement. Without a leader, without a destination or plan, an impromptu parade started marching -- running, skipping, cartwheeling . . . Police officers entered the crowd and gave high fives to all who passed; night cleaning crews at Tom's Restaurant and the Deluxe literally put down their brooms and started to dance along. When security crews hastily closed off patches of the street, taxi drivers got out of their cars and gleefully joined right in. I've never seen anything like it in my life."
- Debora Spar
Barnard Magazine
Winter 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Still -- Thoughts about the Election

I've been thinking about those earthshaking events of the past that have brought people out into the streets of their neighborhoods and into the hallways of their apartment buildings, to find comfort among total strangers. All such experiences that I can personally recall have been negative (assassinations, blackouts . . .) That communal reaction was always the silver lining in a very, very dark cloud. I had therefore come to assume that tragedy is a necessary ingredient in the phenomenon of strangers lowering their guard.

Then came Election night, '08. What happened after the polls closed and the results were announced had all the earmarks of what followed those crises of the past -- except for one thing: the absence of any sense of tragedy. I feel privileged to have gotten to see this more positive search for community.

People did go out looking for others. According to a story in New York magazine, one group of teens broke spontaneously and uncharacteristically into a chorus of the National Anthem. Somewhere else, a megaphone materialized and was passed around, so that people who were strangers to each other could speak emotionally of their pride and happiness. This sort of thing was happening not just around the country, but around the world.

Months later, I'm still mulling that November alteration to the usual scenario. I wasn't around for the end of WWII, but the other day it occurred to me that, judging from the famous Times Square photos, that was also a case of happiness that drew people together in the streets. My next thought was, wait, that wasn't an occasion of total happiness, because it marked the end of a a tragic time, a difficult time, a period of terrible conflict.

Which in turn led me to the question: Is that the most suitable description of the deal on Election Night, too?