At 9:50 last night, our phone rang. Scott was calling me from NYC. He was standing in Times Square outside of CNN with about twenty-five thousand of America's children, anxiously waiting for polls to close on the West coast. My phone was vibrating with energy from the crowd around him, clustered close to Jumbotrons with the map of our country prominently displayed in blue, red and yellow. His voice hummed with palpable excitement, the students with whom he gathered were watching the results of the first national election for which they were eligible to vote. He held his cell phone above his head so that I could hear the throng chanting, "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!" and "Yes we can! Yes we can!"
I told him that I was jealous. I told him that I wanted to be with him -- at home or in NYC -- for this moment. He interrupted me to say that they were calling another state, but that they weren't sure which one. I saw at home before he did that it was Virginia, I squealed into the phone, "VIRGINIA!" He repeated me, awed, and the kids around him cheered at the news.
The anchors on CNN looked as if they were collectively holding their breath as the seconds counted down to the polls closing in California. I counted aloud, "10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 2..." Before I could say "one" the graphic flashed on the screen, "President-Elect Barack Obama." The world erupted. Over the phone I could hear Times Square lifting a communal voice, roaring approval.
People are always asked, "Where were you when..." In my lifetime, the only "whens" have been bad news:
Where were you when the space shuttle exploded? (home sick, eating peanut butter toast and watching the launch)
Where were you when the first Iraq War started? (in a dance lesson, Lesley Harrington ran into the class in tears to announce the war)
Where were you when the Twin Towers fell? (sitting in stunned silence in my father-in-law's office, glancing at the clear blue morning sky, unsure)
Where were you when the second Iraq War started? (in a rehearsal for a one-act play I was directing. I begged the cast to turn off the TV as the live footage looked like a video game and it all felt too cavalier.)
Where were you when Katrina hit? (the Norfolk, VA, airport on the way home from my borther's wedding, cradling our two-month-old Milo in my arms, mourning the loss of a city to which I have never visited)
Where were you when Cedar Rapids went under water? (At work, nervously clicking local news websites, watching as the floods swallowed Quaker Oats, the library, the museums, the theatres, the cultural center of my town and all of the homes surrounding the downtown)
I haven't gotten to answer the good questions:
Where were you when we declared Independence from Britain?
Where were you when George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States of America?
When our legislature created the Bill of Rights?
Where were you when Lincoln abolished slavery?
Where were you when women got the right to vote?
Where were you when the nation desegregated?
Where were you when man stepped on the moon?
And now I can answer the question to which all of those questions have lead:
Where were you when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States?
I was in my living room, wearing my pajamas, on the phone with my husband who was standing in Times Square and we were connected to the entire world.
I teared up as I kissed my sleeping babes, knowing that the first President they are going to remember is the face of the America to come, the America of our future. They went to sleep when our country was a land of opportunity for most, equality for some, and woke this morning in America, the land of hope.