Yesterday was a strange mixture of sadness and joy for me. Sometime in the early morning hours, my grandmother died. I learned that she was near death on Sunday night, and my deliberations about whether to go see her or not settled themselves quickly. It was really too late to leave on Sunday, but I finished my second case in the OR on Monday and excused myself to make the 6 hour drive, hoping she would still be there when I arrived.
I arrived around 9 pm. She was not conscious, and her breathing was halting and irregular. I wanted to remove the oxygen that was still being delivered to her, to avoid prolonging the inevitable unnecessarily. But I knew that the facility she was in couldn't do that without the doctor's permission (or at least hospice's okay), and I didn't want to put them in a bad position by doing it myself--plus the rest of my family might not have seen it the same way I did. At any rate, I don't think it mattered much. I held her hand and sang to her a little bit, told her I loved her and told her it was okay to go when she was ready. I left around 10pm, and she died a few hours later, in the early hours of Election Day.
My grandmother was a staunch Republican, for whom even Sarah Palin was not conservative enough. Oregon is an exclusively vote-by-mail state, and she made sure to vote while she was still able. That remained important to her even as she knew she was dying. I'm actually not certain if her vote was legal if she died on Election Day, but I'm certain it was counted nonetheless. She was resigned to the fact that John McCain was not going to win the election, though.
But my politics were very different from both of my grandparents. I have nothing but tremendous hope and pride in my country for our historic participation in democracy, and in our ability to elect one I feel is a transformational leader, Barack Obama. The only way this could happen in America was for people who really believed they could make a difference to get out and vote, and for people to really consider the man and his arguments rather than his race. Here on the "Left Coast" I think people take for granted the kind of advancements that the country has made in the last 50 years, and in doing that I think we tend to believe that we have advanced further than a realistic look at race relations in all of America actually reveals. There is still a great deal of oppression, more covert than in years past, and we have taken one step forward in this election--even people who did not think Obama was the best candidate seem to recognize this achievement. And I for one was really touched by McCain's classy concession speech, which seemed like a return to the John McCain we knew before the campaign really got heated. (I understand that there are politics in play with any concession speech, but I felt he meant what he said.)
All in all, I was proud of this country yesterday, and today. I hope that we can all come together to face the challenges of today and tomorrow. I think my grandmother would have recognized this if she had lived to see it, even if the person she voted for didn't win. For all her conservative politics and fundamentalist Christian beliefs, she had many surprises for us all. I remember growing up believing that she and my grandfather were racist, and perhaps they were--but in the last 10 years they both proved to me that this was either untrue or that their views had changed. This is a remarkable thing to happen so late in life, by people who lived in an insular farming town where ethnic diversity was composed entirely of Mexican migrant workers showing up on their farm for day labor.
My grandmother had a long career as a special education teacher, in addition to raising 3 kids and being a farmer's wife, which is itself a full time job. She received her master's degree around the time that my aunt, her middle child, graduated high school, and contemplated pursuing her doctorate but decided against it--this was still very rare in the 1960s, much less in a rural farming town. She was educated in the natural sciences as well, and had a zeal for learning and for teaching that influenced everyone around her. Even this year, she was mentoring teenagers at her church who she felt had the promise and ability to go to college but no one to encourage them in their abilities. She was the kind of Christian woman who sought out the holy books of every religion and sect and read them to better understand what they all were about. Her bookshelf had her well-worn and annotated Bible sitting next to copies of the Torah and the Book of Mormon, and numerous other religious books that she read for the sake of education. This was also unusual for a farmer's wife, but my grandmother was an unusual woman. Her intense curiosity must have been part of the impetus for my grandparents' globetrotting--they visited almost every continent after their retirement, and travelled extensively within North America. (They decided to retire from international travel when my grandfather was 90--it was becoming too difficult to make connecting flights and navigate complex itineraries, and keep up with their tour groups.)
My grandmother also played a significant role in the rearing of every one of her eight grandchildren. Three of them grew up on the family farm, which my aunt and uncle farmed. Their house was across the driveway from the stately farmhouse that my great-grandfather built, where my grandfather was born and lived his entire 92-year life. Two others lived at least part of their childhoods with my grandparents, and the rest of us spent summers and weekends and holidays there. Grandma definitely helped raise us all. She also taught my cousins how to read, long before they started elementary school, and provided extensive pre-school education to them, because teaching was as natural to her as breathing. In addition to the eight grandchildren, they had nine great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
One remarkable thing about both of my grandparents was that they were not sentimental about old things or old times, and always strived for progress. My grandfather always sought out the latest and best methods and equipment to run his farm, which he took great pride in growing as a profitable business as well as a physically beautiful place. My grandmother was similarly minded about embracing progress, and not the least sentimental. She cleaned out the farmhouse of all but the most cherished antique things, and donated them to the county historical society, where she worked for many years in her retirement. She then redecorated and remodelled the place, and fought to keep the house off the historical register so that they wouldn't have to have every change they wanted to make to their home approved by the county. I would like to think that these ways of thinking contributed to their growing acceptance of the more diverse world as times changed, and that even though they feared rising taxes and other signs of impending liberalism, they would have seen the good in what happened in yesterday's election.