In Unity with Inspiration

(this piece was written following the appearance of candidates Obama and Clinton in Unity, NH)

Democratic Candidates Obama and Clinton, Unity, NH 2008 (LLoyd Salasin-Deane)

~for the children

4:30 am
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Marlboro, Vermont

Dear Community of ALL,

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of attending a political rally in Unity, New Hampshire. I use the word “privilege” because I could afford the time, the energy and the gas it took to devote an entire day to this journey. I also had the privilege of the company of my two young sons, Aidan 7 and Lloyd 12. It was their enthusiasm that fueled this endeavor for me.

Despite being born in the sixties, I grew up with little inclination to participate politically. As a young adult I found politics disconnecting and depressing. When I moved to Vermont at age 30 that changed.

Suddenly things were on a small enough scale that I could manage the attention and faith it took to begin to get involved. Vermont’s Town Meetings were my springboard. Political humans like Bernie Sanders and Jim Jeffords were accessible and worthy.

I still wasn’t hardwired to fully engage in the political process, but I began to hope for my own sons. They attended town meetings with me, ate a chicken supper beside Bernie, and participated in walking with his senate campaign down Main Street in the 4th of July parade.

Lloyd and Aidan showed more interest in politics in their short lives than I had in my entire life. In fact, much of their sand play with peers at South Pond was politically based.

When I went to tell my boys that Obama and Hillary were going to be in New Hampshire–less than 2 hours away–they gave an enthusiastic, “Let’s go!” That was all I needed to take the next step to get the tickets and pack us up for my first national campaign event.

I don’t have the poltical savvy to know all the reasons why I shouldn’t have been inspired by Senators Clinton and Obama, and I never will. My mind just doesn’t operate that way. I am much more interested in the internal politics of our own hearts and spirits than I am driven by what happens on the outside with others.

That said, I do want to be part of the change. Like Gandhi, I want to “be the change” that I want to see in the world… rather than just complain that it doesn’t exist. And though I have never been politically minded, I have always had a passion for history, and a deep fascination and regard for the spirit of this country–for our Declaration of Independence and the freedom we created in it.

9/11 was for me and for many others the spiritual “bottom” of my political experience. It left me wanting to disown this country once and for all; and it also caused me to realize just how much I loved this big bully. I grew up, politically speaking, around 9/11. I began to realize that my participation or lack of it played a part; and that for whatever reason, I was tied up in this country–in its identity and actions.

On the drive to Charlemont, New Hampshire where we boarded shuttles to Unity, I explained to my older son–and to myself–what a “leader” was all about.

“It’s like one of those amazing teachers you hear about,” I said, “like that guy in Los Angles that took that poorly performing class and made them math wizards. Those kids were disconnected, self-absorbed, criminal, disenfranchised–and rightly so…

“And it wasn’t as much about the teacher’s greatness–but that inside each of those students was greatness and he helped them find it,” I continued. “He lead them to it. He created a place of belonging for them. He believed in them. He inspired them to their own strengths and greatness. That’s what this country needs in a President.”

I looked over to see that my son’s nose was back in his graphic novel. But once at the rally, under the bright afternoon sun, surrounded by trees and fields, Hillary and Obama echoed my voice–albeit in their political speech writing ways.

She said that it wasn’t about one person, that it was about the change we wanted to create.

He said that his hope lies in the faces of all of us, in our basic decency and caring.

Balance (Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

For me–seeing them together like that–two leaders–male and female–black and white–I felt complete.

I don’t know if these two beautiful people have the answers, but I do know that the answers lie inside of us–inside each of us. I discover that every time I work with someone in my role as a life coach.

My hope, and the reason why I bought my very first bumper sticker (that says “HOPE”), is that these two people can lead us to our own inspiration to change.

It pains me and I know it pains each of you that we live in a world where children are hungry. It brings me to tears that I don’t know what to do about it. It anguishes me that great suffering is happening on “my watch” while I eat my organic cereal and type on my laptop to you.

“NOT ON MY WATCH!” I want to scream, but I don’t know where to direct my voice and my energy and my passion.

So many of you have that clarity. I see you act on behalf of others in so many ways.

Social and political activism have never had the clarity for me. But I am a writer and a thinker and connector; and that is what I have to offer to make the change.

We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to be good at everything…”You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. ” (Thank you dear Mary Oliver for planting that seed.)

That’s why there’s so many of us, to make it easier. Our talents and interests and gifts blend like circles on a beautiful hand sewn quilt. Let’s get stitching so that we can cover this world with a blanket of warmth, and food, and protection, and safety.

I know I am idealistic. That’s how I came. And I know that many of you know much more about the process because you’ve actually been participating for a lot longer.But maybe there’s a place for me to inspire you with my innocence and heartfelt conviction.

I know our leaders are imperfect, but is that where we want to focus our attention? How would this country and its ideals ever been born if we had focused on the imperfections of our forefathers!?

And I know this country isn’t perfect either. There’s history books filled with our sins against humanity.

But there’s also a light, and that’s what I want to follow and help grow.

I see the light of hope in my children. They each wanted an Obama t-shirt that showed his face in red, white and blue with the word, CHANGE, below it. My oldest wondered why I didn’t buy the “CHANGE” bumper sticker. I explained that I couldn’t put one man’s face on my car–but I could put the word “HOPE” out about him–appreciating that my sons’ would be the change.

That morning, ahead of the rally, the three of us stood under a hot sun in a parking lot at a race track in New Hampshire–waiting for the school bus that would take us to UNITY–to the playground of an elementary school–where the groundskeeper in suspenders was crowned “honorary mayor” for the day, and introduced not one–but two candidates, that I had respected for President.

Unity’s “Honorary” Mayor (the school custodian) introducing Obama (photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

Behind us in that shuttle line of hundreds, stood two elderly women, who looking around them at all the young people, said with pride, “This is our future.”

On the return bus ride to the racetrack after the rally, I looked at all the folks around me– in front of me and behind me–and I thought, This is my country:  the elderly man with Parkinson’s beside me, the college students laughing in front of me, and the family, behind me.”

Obama/Clinton Rally Attendees on the bus ride back to their cars. (photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I’m not writing to tell you to believe in Obama or even that I do; but I believe in us, and I know that we need a leader to bring the change that we need in this world—not cheaper groceries or gas prices for us–but provision for all and stewardship for the blessing of this earth.

At the end of this long day, the boys and I raced home to the pond. I wished Hillary and Barack could join us. I’m sure they needed the swim more than we did, and I would have liked to see them out of their suits enjoying the gift of Vermont.

But alas, they have a different dharma…

No doubt, they’re off on a plane to do more of what they did in Unity–more speeches, more politics. God bless them.

Obama and Clinton leaving the podium; Unity, NH 2008 (photo: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I find myself praying for Obama and his family, that they would be safe from the dangers of this world so that our country might be led by a man who I saw to be “good.”

Obama stood, not more than 6 heads in front of me, and I took him in–not his words or his plan–but his spirit. That’s what I went to see.

Barack Obama~Unity, NH 2008 ~photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I had to wake my boys before 7 in order for us to be there on that field when Clinton and Obama stepped out of the newspapers and into the world. Now that it’s summer, Aidan is the hardest to wake. But when I said to his shut eyes, “Aidan, today is the day we go see Hillary and Obama,” he jumped out of bed like it was Christmas.

By noon, under that hot sun, in a crowd of thousands, he broke down in tears, begging to find any way to get back home. Lloyd and I created a little world under a beach towel for him and he found his strength to go on.

Though they were only 15 feet ahead of us, Aidan could only see Hillary and Obama when I lifted him up on my shoulders. He spent most of the time on the ground, half the size of those around him–but he said that he was glad he came.

And when we got to the pond, he told his cousin all about the rally with pride.  And to my surprise, my older son’s classmates were enthralled that we had gone to the rally and ran to find him to see these photos he took and to hear about it.

My popularity index as a parent immediately rose, having plummeted the week before when I was not among those many Marlborians who made sure their kids found a television to watch the night-long Celtics win. “You put us all to shame” said a father about the journey I made with my boys.

“They were our community representatives,” a mother clarified.

I have great hope that this beautiful man of color and character might be our country’s representative.

My husband tells me that both Michelle and Barack Obama made the maximum individual contribution to Hillary’s indebted campaign the other night, and that Barack has asked his supporters to donate what they can to offset her great debt.

Today, I’ll make my first ever direct financial contribution to a political campaign at a national level to both Hillary and Obama. I like the feeling of supporting his campaign and supporting Hillary with hers that has ended. I like the spirit of it.

That’s what drew me to Unity, New Hampshire yesterday morning–the spirit of it.

And did you know that the school groundskeeper that introduced Hillary and Barack, was a Republican?

United we stand, divided we fall. My greatest hope is that we can co-create a world and a country that we are proud to call our home–and that when our time comes to leave this place, we can say that on “our watch” unity and beauty prevailed.

Do I believe a political leader can provide the change we want to see in the world?

No.

But I hold great hope that we can co-create it with his leadership.

Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.

-May Sarton

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Young at Heart (Never Grow Up!)

Kelly Ann Beach
The author, at the eternal age of 8!

I remember the exact moment that I became a grownup.  It was on a playground in a suburb outside Philadelphia, and I was only twenty-one years old.   A six-year old, named Danny Goldstein, was to blame.

I’d spent the better part of my youth avoiding “growing up” because I knew that I didn’t want any place in that serious world of adults. In fact, at 13, when I could feel childhood slipping away, I made a tearful pact with myself to keep the magic alive.

In some ways holding onto my youth was easier for me than other teens because I came from a large family. Spending time with little ones kept me young–and busy–which shielded me from having to grow up too soon.  The first time I was “asked out,” I let my youngest sister answer for me.  At two-years old, her answer was always, “NO!”

Just before I entered high school, my father took me on a date to the movies where the closing song became my personal crusade: “Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth to be Young at Heart.”

The years passed though and soon enough, my interests began to change.  I started dating and driving and other teenage things.  My best friend and I were always on the lookout for markers of our impending adulthood:  the first time we drank coffee, the first road trip, the applications to college.  “Now we’re real women,” we’d say, never believing it was true.

By the time I were in college, my high school sweetheart starting talking marriage. M. was two years older than me and was more than ready to join the real world—as an accountant and husband. BUT I hadn’t even chosen a major yet and couldn’t see myself in any role that required panty hose, heels and the title, “Mrs.”  The day that he took me to look at rings, my hands began to sweat and I refused to get out of the car.

My fear of growing up took on such mythological proportions that even my youngest sister captured it in song.  At 3 years old, she spontaneously adapted a Peter Pan tune for me, singing, “You don’t want to grow up.  You don’t want to marry M.”

As my relationship with M. deteriorated, I decided upon elementary education as a major.  Now I never had to grown up!

…Enter my semester as a student teacher.  As seniors, my roommates had only a handful of classes a week while I spent all day—every day– with first graders!  As my friends tossed aside books and headed out to parties, I made lesson plans and called it a night.

After two weeks in the first grade, I found myself stealing naps on the milk-stained rug at recess time.  With ten weeks left to go, I began to doubt that this was the career for me.

It was in my last fateful days at Penn Wynne Elementary that my own youth was abruptly stolen. I arrived early to school that morning and just as I crossed the playground and stepped onto the blacktop, little Danny Goldstein, who wanted to be a paleontologist when he grew up, rushed at me with those irretrievable words:

Ms. Salasin!  Thank goodness a GROWNUP is here!

My world stopped.  My ears began to ring. I looked around the playground for the grownup to which Danny was referring, and found only–me.  I stumbled through the school doors and down the hall, wondering how it had happened.  How had  I become a grown up when I tried so hard not to be?

For a couple more years, I pretended it wasn’t so.  I turned my back on teaching, frolicked at the beach in the summer, back packed through Europe in the fall, spent a winter as a ski bum in Colorado, and at 22–made a pact with a lusty bartender to avoid credit, mortgages and marriages till at least the old age of 30 when we’d marry each other if we hadn’t found anyone else.

My frivolity caught up with me long before thirty however. After seven years of waiting, M. proposed to someone else!   I didn’t think it would matter, but it did.  I put up a good fight—humbly lost—and in the process, grew up.  My life of fun suddenly became stale.  Marriage and mortgages were held at bay, but I moved in with a man who swept me off my stubborn feet, and I even started substitute teaching.

The day that I was offered a full-time job, I cried as if someone had died.  But to my surprise, once I began teaching, I was happier than ever.  Within a few years, I wanted my own kids–and a house!

Though the realization that I was a grown up came in a single declarative sentence spoken by a six-year old on a playground, it truly didn’t happen in a one moment.   The “grown-up” thing creeps up on you over time and never stops clobbering you over the head:  like when you sign on the dotted line for 30 years; or when your closest friends tell you that their marriage is ending; or when your teenage son plays your old music, and you find yourself yelling, “Turn it down.”

When I take a good look back, I can see that “growing up” is something that started long before I’d even come of age.  The seed of that transformation was planted and watered through a series of childhood losses:

the day my cat “Licorice” didn’t come home;

the day I realized that people die–even parents and kids– not just pet turtles;

the day my father put me in charge of making sure my mom didn’t drink anymore;

the day my Nana Lila and her three best friends were killed in a car accident;

the day my parents split up and all my sisters turned toward me;

and the list goes on…

The truth is that I held onto childhood for too long because too much of it had been ripped away from me too soon.  And although I still have that 13 year old inside–promising to hold onto the magic– I have a grown up inside now too.  She can’t believe she’s 45, but I wouldn’t give her up.   I need them both, just as I need my three-year old and my eighty-year old, and everyone in between.

Over time, I’ve realized that the secret of staying “young at heart” isn’t about holding on to your youth, it’s about continuing to grow—up and out and all around.

Kelly Salasin, 2009

Kelly keeps it “young” from the Green Mountains of Vermont.  She welcomes your comments and conversation below.  She also highly recommends the dvd, Young @ Heart (You’re Never Too Old to Rock) featuring Northampton’s remarkable “senior” rockers!  Coldplay, The Clash & Hendrix will never sound the same!

Extra~ How Not to Act Old in 2010

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