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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

by Alice Walker

Alice Walker on expectations, responsibilities and a new reality that
is almost more than the heart can bear.

Dear Brother Obama,
You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us
being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you
know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history.
But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried,
year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to
be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is
almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not
intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed,
because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a
different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through
all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the
spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would
actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take
your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and
character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only
sung about.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster
that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for
bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you
do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make
a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your
gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your
family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon
become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their
wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have
smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no
way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of
thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse
not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real
success, which is all that so many people in the world really want.
They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the
attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is
because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside
job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most
damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain.
Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess
a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to
have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in
disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of
the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this
we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting
a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the
sinner." There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more
torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit.
This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women,
children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented
by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he
confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally,
it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible
leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection
to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges,
purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch
you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and
lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that,
kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of
us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy, Alice Walker

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