Friday, January 23, 2009


Synchronicity: a meaningful coincidence. It always surprises me. The most recent occurrence for me has had me looking back into my past.

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of our neighbours to the south captivated the interest of a good part of the world. The local rag had a front page story of a Stratford resident who was travelling to Washington to be a part of this historic event.

America needs the energy, optimism, realism and hope which Mr Obama genuinely embraces. Afro-Americans needed the affirmation that this historic event delivered. The world needs a superpower to shift into, hopefully, a new direction of leadership.

For most observers, though, the significance of Mr Obama's success is obvious. For myself, and this is where the synchronicity comes into play, it goes deeper. Enter: The Secret Life of Bees.

With a healthy chunk of our RBC reward points, David, unexpectedly surprised me with my very own Ipod, a sleek, shiny Nano 8. I had been resisting this popular device for one reason: its popularity. I had also been resisting a friend's several-year-old suggestion that I should listen to audio books. Na...nope, not for me: can’t walk and chew gum so how could I walk and listen at the same time. Besides, I’m the touchy-feely type: I want to fondle my books while I read.

That held until I became smitten with the writing of Ian Rankin. Mr Rankin, a Scot PhD, wrote the Rebus crime fiction series. Rebus is an Edinburgh detective inspector; a fully developed character with lots of complicated and nasty crimes to deal with. For a 2009 resolution, I decided to read the entire series from start to finish. David suggested that I listen to a download that he had of the first novel: Knots and Crosses. I thought about it for awhile. The realization that I could needlepoint and listen occurred. Brilliant. The long-in-the-tooth Leek pillow project could be finished along with the novels.

In a weekend, I finished Knots and Crosses and a long border on the Leek; six hours of listening to a delicious Scot brogue. The decision was sealed: I would listen to the series. Onto novel two: Hide and Seek.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a hyperactive imagination. My dreams during the period listening to these two novels became vivid crime fiction fodder. Not very restful. Best take a break from the crime fiction, but what should I listen to. As Inauguration Day was approaching, I thought about Obama’s Audacity of Hope. Na. His autobiography, I felt like some chick fiction. David suggested that I look at his download library, 117 books and still growing. That’s when I stumbled on The Secret Life of Bees.

1964, south of the Mason-Dixon line and a complicated childhood...that resonates. For the better part of my life (age 8 and on), I would mumble when someone asked me where I was born. Dallas Texas. Yep. You know, the city that killed JFK. I came from the country that killed its dreamers, sent its future to a dirty war in the South Pacific, and had missile silos buried all across its landscape.

Worse still, I came from the part of the country that celebrated segregation. My grandparents had 'nigger' help, a gardener and a housekeeper. There were only white people in our neighbourhoods, schools and churches. There was no mixing, no respect and no tolerance.

When I started listening to The Secret Life of Bees, I had vivid mental pictures of the events that Sue Munk Kidd describes. Things like the regular atomic bomb safety exercises at school (and yes, it seems oxymoronic to me but...). The alarm would sound and we were instructed to immediately crouch under our desks until we were given a signal. Or, watching Walter Cronkite on the nightly news. In my grandparents' home, conversation and movement of any kind was forbidden while the news was on. As an eight year old, it was unnerving. It seemed like you couldn't even breath. My grandfather would yell at Walter whenever a nerve was touched: like the enactment of the Civil Rights seemed like the world was coming to an end. It was scary.

For me, being an American was a terrible thing. It was humiliating. I couldn't wait for the day when I got get my Canadian citizenship. A few years ago, I couldn't believe my ears when my brother said that he was going for his dual citizenship papers and would be moving back to the U.S. I considered it temporary insanity.

February 2008. Michelle Obama is getting heat because of her Milwaukee speech, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country...not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. I've been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and not just feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment." I knew exactly where she was coming from. I wasn`t convinced that America was prepared for change despite the hunger.

A part of me is relieved that my grandparents are not alive. Not for their sake; for mine. It would be impossible to talk about a Democrat in the White House, let alone an Afro-American. It's hard enough talking to my very Republican but colour-blind brother about it.

But this Tuesday, I know that for the first time ever, I too was proud of my former country. I actually said 'God bless America' out loud and meant it. Not just because the impossible became a reality. Probably, more, because I saw Americans joyfully jump into a great melting-pot of hope. I sensed that the global community was breathing in the sweet smell of hope that was rising about the USA like incense.

A chapter of history is complete, the old book is done.

In closing, I would encourage you to watch the embedded link to Bishop Gene Robinson's invocation at the Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. He reminds us that Obama is a man, not the Messiah. It is a powerful and beautifully hopeful prayer for the future.

Nicola Adair

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