This year for Thanksgiving, Susie and I went to the Cary, NC home of her son, Lawrence and her daughter-in-law Suzanne, a half hour drive from our home in Chapel Hill. At the dinner were Noah and Ezra, Susie’s two teenage grandsons [one of whom, Noah, has just started at East Carolina State U.], Suzanne’s father, Jim, and Suzanne’s friend with her son. For dinner we had turkey, stuffing, sweet potato mash, green beans, gravy, and apple pie. It could not have been more American if we had started with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. It was agreed that we would not talk politics, not for fear of argument but because no one wanted to ruin a lovely event.
After dinner we repaired to the living room, where Lawrence did something that enormously impressed me, tech idiot that I am. He took out his IPhone, set it up on the coffee table in front of the sofa, dialed up YouTube on it, found a YouTube upload of the recent White House Medal of Freedom ceremony, beamed the feed to a little box on the table in front of the enormous TV screen, and proceeded to play the ceremony proceedings on the TV! I had no idea one could do that! Lawrence also showed me where on my IPhone to find the little icon you use to turn on the flashlight. Will wonders never cease.
This year’s Medal of Freedom award ceremony is Obama’s last, and the list of recipients was pretty impressive, including Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Redford, Cicely Tyson, Diana Ross, Newt Minow, Ellen Degeneres, Robert DeNiro, Bill and Melinda Gates, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, and Vin Scully, among others.
There was one fleeting moment during the ceremonies that reminded me how much we have lost in this election. Let me tell you about it, if you haven’t watched the event. Barack Obama is a tall man. Now, tall men early on learn that their height gives them a subtle dominance edge in social situations, whether they choose to capitalize on it or not. The recipients were seated on a little platform that was two steps up from the level where the audience was sitting. Obama gave a graceful and charming little bio of each recipient, and then one by one they came forward to receive their medals as a Marine in full dress uniform read out the official citation. When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stepped forward, he rather tactfully stepped all the way down to the level of the audience. Obama took his arm and led him back onto the stage, where he towered literally head and shoulders above the president [Kareem is 7’2”!] The audience laughed at the contrast, and Obama gave a beaming self-deprecatory smile, as if to say, “You see how small I look beside him.”
It was just a moment, but tears came to my eyes when I saw it. It was an act of such grace on Obama’s part [and Kareem’s, stepping down to the level below the president], an expression of such self-confident generous humanity, and I knew that there was no way in the world that the incoming president could ever do such a thing. We face far greater losses and graver threats when that terrible man becomes president, but we ought never to forget these moments. They will help us preserve our humanity.