Tonight I had an unexpected opportunity: I got to hear Greg Mortenson speak at Trinity University. He is the founder of the Central Asia Institute and author of Three Cups of Tea. He builds schools for girls in Pakistan. A friend gave me a copy earlier this summer and I was excited to read it because I had been eyeing it in the bookstore for months. Last week, my mom and I heard that he would be in town. Of course I was going to risk missing Obama’s speech (I would record it) in order to go hear Greg Mortenson.
Mortenson is just as personable and inspiring in person as he is in print. This is a man who grew up in extraordinary–or at least, not your typical American–circumstances, is down-to-earth, and works towards the betterment of our world because, well, it doesn’t occur to him not to. This is a man who had brunch with Pervez Musharraf three days before he resigned as president! I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this book. Read it. Let it inspire you, compel you.
A couple quotes:
“If you fight terrorism, that’s based on fear. But if you promote peace, that’s based in hope.” (In regards to the subtitle to his book. The hardcover said “One man fighting terrorism… one school at a time. The new softcover says, “One man promoting peace…”)
“The real enemy is ignorance, and it is ignorance that breeds hatred.”
We made it home in time so I could still hear Obama’s speech. It’s been interesting watching the DNC in the family room, with my dad in the other room, because he is a staunch Republican. “He’s going to promise the world,” my dad said tonight. “And McCain will next week,” I quipped back. We’ve had mild verbal sparring like this all summer, mainly because I won’t stand for anyone to be spoken badly of, whether I agree with them or not. At least my father stayed in the other room, and didn’t get up to go upstairs.
Tonight Obama spoke about change and what it would look like. I listened. I thought. President Wilson urged Congress to ratify the 19th amendment, and he was a Democrat. President F.D. Roosevelt picked up the pieces of a broken America with the New Deal, and he was a Democrat. The Civil Rights movement was fought during a Democratic presidency, and it succeeded. That same presidency was that of an Irish Catholic. It would seem that Democrats are not afraid of change. When I look at Barack Obama, when I hear the arguments against him, they are mostly from older people, working from a world-view foreign to those of us born in a post-Cold War, post-segregation world. Perhaps it is a good thing for a young candidate to become president. He would better represent the upcoming leaders and workers of this nation, people like me who when she saw him running for president didn’t notice the color of his skin until someone else pointed it out to her. Who saw a person.
In 1962, President Kennedy said, “The Irish were not wanted here. Now an Irish Catholic is President of the United States. There is no question about it, in the next forty years a Negro can achieve the same position.”
We’re six years late, but we’ve made it. There is no question about it: it’s possible. And we should be willing to consider change, and not fear it. In the past, such risks of change brought us independence, universal suffrage, civil rights. We should not fear to hope.
Tonight I also heard Obama say, “We recognize ourselves in each other.” It reminded me of why I read and study and hope to create literature. Literature often brings us face to face with the Other and the unknown; it compels us to see in their face a reflection similar to ours: two eyes, a nose, and a head full of fears and dreams, and a heart aching to be known.