Bridging the 77 Day Chasm

For millions of Obama supporters it's been a long two years holding signs, hosting house events, wearing buttons, knocking on doors, and making phone calls. Through months of watching CNN and pundits weighing in on news shows, we hung in there as the country melted down around us. We first endured the marathon of a primary, then winded with not a moment to recover, sprinted into the exhaustive relay of a presidential election. At last, the final night was upon us and as we sat riveted to TVs and computer screens, wondering through bouts of nail biting if our hard work would pay off. Mercifully it did, and the wave of joy which radiated from Chicago to engulf the world left hope ringing in our ears. We had done it! It was over! We could collectively exhale. We would revel in and savor the monumental history of the moment. Our hearts and tear ducts overflowed. We cried with strangers as DVRs went into overdrive recording it all. The next day we watched again and cried some more.

We have certainly done it, but it is far from over. The reality is we have yet to cross the finish line. One formidable hurdle remains. I call it the seventy-seven day chasm. You guessed it, the seventy-seven days between November 4, 2008 and inauguration day on January 20, 2009. In ordinary times those seventy-seven days wouldn't seem like much. In the past they've not been pivotal. Yet these are anything but ordinary times.

It was easy enough in our patriotic frenzy to overlook the crack when it first formed. It was more comfortable to turn our heads toward election fervor than to see those slipping into the widening gulch as jobs were lost and homes foreclosed upon. It was vexing to notice the gorge spreading outward and, realizing we might soon be on the verge of it ourselves, downright unpatriotic to focus on pulling people out of it when indeed all our efforts were needed to turn the tide of leadership instead. Oh, patriotism was a mighty distracter.

But suddenly there are no more calls to make, no more debates to be waged, no more doors to knock upon. We got our victory, sure, but overlooked the fact that it wouldn't -- couldn't -- instantly backfill the gaping canyon that grew from a simple crack in the crust. No, the sad reality is the damage is done, was done, all those months ago. Many more will fall into the chasm before and after the third Tuesday in January. People like Debbie Hobson. People you know, like that job-searching friend whose unemployment benefits will run out in nine weeks, probably before she lands a new gig. Or the uninsured fifty-year old brother-in-law who's going to need $250,000 open heart surgery in the next month or so. What's going to pull them through seventy-seven days of limbo-like uncertainty? Who's going to help them bridge the gap?

The President-elect is certainly trying. By golly he's on it, with up and running hours after CNN declared him our future leader, a private meeting with President Bush already under his belt and key staff appointments announced. But he can only do so much, so fast. The Congress will help, or at least, not stand in his way (we think) but they too will largely have their hands temporarily tied, their bureaucratic rules and processes to abide by. Which leaves, exactly, who?

You. Me. Us.

I know -- it's hugely unfair. How can anyone have the audacity to ask more after what we've been through already, as a nation and individuals both? If you're not broke or jobless by now you're certainly feeling the pinch, at least on some level. You're in self-preservation mode, wondering if your home equity and those college savings accounts for your kids are going to recover in time. Hoping against hope that your husband or wife won't be part of the big company layoff just announced for January. And (crap!) Thanksgiving and Christmas are right round the corner, so even though you're cutting back there are Santa gifts and family meals to factor into a budget now stretched possibly to within an inch of its life.

If you're like the majority, you're feeling mighty tapped out -- emotionally, mentally, and certainly financially. And here I am asking you to do more. How? How can you -- I -- we -- be a bridge to anything?

It definitely isn't by doing more. It is by doing differently.

For starters we -- all of us -- will need to set aside disagreements. The election is over and it's time to move on, but that doesn't mean we dump the job in the hands of those we elected and scurry back to our TV-induced comas. This election saw more voter turnout and grassroots involvement than any prior election in our country's history, and we'll need the same participation level or greater to manifest all that change we voted for.

Second, we must break the treacherous bonds of fear and greed once and for all. Fear feeds on crisis, so the more we expect the worst, the faster we get it. Like I always say, worry is praying for what you don't want. We're afraid we might not have enough, or last long enough, for change to come so we contract and restrict which morphs into greed and hoarding. Again, self-preservation seems to have a negative bias.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner we have a unique opportunity to consciously turn that bias around. We can reside in gratitude and giving instead of fear and greed. We can stop thinking about big corporations and Wall Street, and instead come together as fellow Americans and do what is right for the American people who are hurting now. Finally, the time has come to look at those in the chasm and if you're not in it yourself, let me warn you -- it isn't pretty. See what it's like to worry about how you're going to pay your rent, or utilities, or what you will feed your kids for dinner tonight. Look into a child's eyes and tell her there will be no Christmas this year because Santa doesn't come to the houses where mom or dad was laid off. If you do that -- really get in touch with those trying daily to bridge the gap -- I know you'll do everything in your power to do what is right.

And I promise you this. If you can afford to look into the chasm because you're not in it yourself, you're among the ones who can afford to help.

What might that help be? I'm talking immediate, hands-on, volunteer assistance that goes way beyond holiday food drives and serving meals to the homeless, although that's a plenty noble place to begin. If you're lacking ideas to hit the ground running, here are a few:

1) Skip the office or family gift exchange and instead, ask everyone to pool their funds. Then donate the total to a chosen cause or adopt a family in need. My siblings and our spouses have been doing this for the past five years; we take turns selecting the recipient of our philanthropy (our "Adopt a Katrina Family" in 2005 was particularly memorable). I'll vouch that the satisfaction of receiving another Coach purse or MP3 player is swamped by the joy of changing, or saving, a life.

2) Make an instant difference through self-selected giving to a specific person via ModestNeeds. Or check out Bring Light and be some change in the world by directing exactly where your donation goes.

3) Teach younger children the importance of giving by telling them that for every toy Santa brings, another toy must be donated to a needy child. Involve older children in volunteer efforts like meal preparation or Habitat for Humanity. It's time to get them away from the Wii and into action anyway if we're going to continue to walk the walk we've just taken.

4) Reduce your planned spending by half. Of the 50% you would have spent, donate half to a worthy cause and save the rest. Let's hedge our own bets so we who are able to help don't go under as well.

Seventy-seven days may not seem like a big deal to you, but to millions right now it's the difference between thriving and surviving. It is the last barrier to reaching the America that waits on the other side of the chasm. The approaching holidays might be just be another day in the White House and department stores around the nation, filled with glitter and feast. But to hard working men and women who have lost their jobs and can no longer provide even the basic necessities of life, they are a slap in the face, a kick when you're down. Only those who are able and willing can change that reality now.

It's Gandhi time people, there's just no getting around that being the change we wish to see thing. So I wonder, in this emerging Obama America, can we sustain the credo? Can we think differently, intend differently, and act differently fast and furiously enough to break with the conditioned behavior of the past? Do we possess the courage to jump the next hurdle and -- dare I suggest it -- keep running even from there? Can we be change we can believe in?

We have 65 days left to find out. And counting.