Dear President Obama,
This week I watched you place the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Ellen DeGeneres as she struggled to hold back her tears. Then you kissed her on the cheek as you pulled her in to embrace her. Tears came to my eyes too. I cried in part because of all that Ellen means to Americans in general and to the LGBTQ community in particular. But I also cried because I realized in that moment just how much I am going to miss you.
You weren’t always a supporter of gay marriage ― something Ellen has long advocated for and championed. I felt the sting of your position on that issue when you first ran for office. I canvassed and campaigned for you anyway. I logged hours making phone calls and knocking doors not because your position on LGBTQ equality wasn’t important to me, but because I trusted something about you. It’s the same thing I felt as I watched you embrace Ellen: you are a man of compassion. And what I trust about compassion is that it allows us to see where we’ve been wrong. It gives us the opportunity to change.
I saw your compassion in the tears that lined your face and the heartache that swallowed your words as you spoke to parents across this nation who were afraid to send their children back to school after the incomprehensible massacre in Newtown. I saw your compassion as you knelt down to let a little black boy place his hand on your head so he could see that your hair was, in fact, like his. I saw your compassion as you fought for healthcare reform so people like me wouldn’t be denied access to coverage because of preexisting conditions. I saw your compassion as the weight of so many hate-fueled mass murders, this time in a church like those where you’ve worshipped, rose up in you as a mournful song:
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
I’ve never heard a president sing before. It seemed fitting that you would be the first.
I’ve also seen you dance. If I may say so, you’ve got some moves. I will miss seeing you dance on “The Ellen Show,” and with the First Lady. It is clear how much you love Michelle. We love her too. A man wise enough to choose to walk through life with Michelle is a man I can get behind and believe in. It is unmistakable to me that no passion, concern, or interest takes priority over your fierce dedication to Michelle, Malia and Sasha.
I haven’t always agreed with your decisions. There are multiple times over the course of the past eight years when I have felt disillusioned by unfulfilled campaign promises and thwarted policy proposals. I imagine you have felt that way too. Even now, I believe you could take more direct action to protect and defend those at Standing Rock who are fighting to preserve our land and our water. I hope the compassion I see in you will lead you to do just that.
I don’t see that compassion in the man who will be taking your place in January. What happened in this country with the recent election broke my heart. I was devastated to see the reins of power transferred to someone so unlike you in so many ways. But I have also watched in admiration as you have set aside profound differences in order to remain in a mentoring capacity as long as it takes to ensure this transition can be as successful as possible. To do so requires another trait I value in you, one lacking in your successor: humility. Not the brand of humility which kowtows and acquiesces to muscle-flexing and insults, but rather the humility which necessitates that ego and indignation give precedence to the greater good.
This example of dignity and grace in the face of grave disappointment has been foremost in my mind as I’ve considered how to express my gratitude to you. I’ve come to realize that my thanks will best be shown, not spoken.
President Obama, I will show my thanks by continuing to fight for the causes we both believe in.
I will march. I will rally. I will donate. I will volunteer. I will organize. I will write, call, and petition my legislators. I will canvass and campaign.
I will vote. I will vote. I will vote.
And this refrain from Amazing Grace will be singing in my heart as I do:
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.”
Most of all, I promise to never forget what I felt on the night of Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 ― the night we elected our first African-American president. As I listened to you speak that night, with tears streaming down my face, anything seemed possible.
And in spite of it all, I still believe it is.
Your rallying cry from the start will remain your legacy in the end:
We must never give up on the audacity of hope.
Thank you for igniting that in me, President Obama. No matter what lies ahead, I promise to carry hope forward.