The Discovery of Self

“You’ll miss the elections,” The Man told her.

Yeah, she knows.  She knows!  She would have given anything to be able to cast her vote for Obama.  Now she can only pray.

The only other time she missed the election was in 2004.  She was a visiting writer in Miami University in Ohio.  The campus was alive with trees in autumn splendor.  Football games were in full swing.

Self would return from teaching her class and watch The Daily Show.  The night of the elections, she watched in stupefaction as Jon Stewart called state after state for Bush.  In the end, there were only two little smears of blue on the whole map of the United States.  They enclosed the red heart of American states like two parentheses:  one on the East Coast, one on the West.  There might have been little blobs of blue here and there, self can’t be sure. “If it makes you feel any better,” one of her students told her the next day, “it was close.”

Self is still enthralled by the Obama book.  She’s just begun Part III (It’s taken her weeks to get here).  Obama, on his way to visit Kenya, his father’s native land, is “a Westerner not entirely at home in the West, an African on his way to a land full of strangers.”  Self feels she and Obama have similar journeys.

On the way to Kenya, he stops over in Europe.  All through his European sojourn, he is “edgy, defensive, hesitant with strangers.”  He writes:

I hadn’t planned it that way.  I had thought of the layover there as nothing more than a whimsical detour, an opportunity to visit places I had never been before.  For three weeks I had traveled alone, down one side of the continent and up the other, by bus and by train mostly, a guidebook in hand.  I took tea by the Thames and watched children chase each other through the chestnut groves of Luxembourg Garden.  I crossed the Plaza Mejor at high noon, with its De Chirico shadows and sparrows swirling across cobalt skies; and watched night fall over the Palatine, waiting for the first stars to appear, listening to the wind and its whispers of mortality.

And by the end of that first week or so, I realized that I made a mistake.  It wasn’t that Europe wasn’t beautiful; everything was just as I’d imagined it.  It just wasn’t mine.  I felt as if I were living out someone else’s romance; the incompleteness of my own history stood between me and the sites I saw like a hard pane of glass.  I began to suspect that my European stop was just one more means of delay; one more attempt to avoid coming to terms with the Old Man.  Stripped of language, stripped of work and routine —  stripped even of the racial obsessions to which I’d become so accustomed and which I had taken (perversely) as a sign of my own maturation —  I had been forced to look inside myself and had found only a great emptiness there.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


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