So far, I’ve only voted once. I was 21, was spending a lot of time traveling between France and the rural South, was a part of a mostly-conservative Christian organization and the by-definition-liberal Black Student Movement, came from a historically Republican family and had a staunchly Democratic roommate. I felt like there was a war going on and I had friends on both sides.
I made the best decision I could, voted, walked back through campus, and found a tree somewhere to sit and cry beneath. It was a terrible day.
That anecdote is meant as a disclaimer. I am not making a political statement. I haven’t even registered to vote.
Yesterday I got a phone call from Russ, whom I’ve mentioned before, my ol’ KKK friend, the only person who has ever called me some of those racial slurs I’ve only heard in books like To Kill a Mockingbird, who seems to be in a race with himself to see if he can kill his liver or his lungs first. I haven’t heard from him since the Eve Carson shooting, when he called to rant about how that foul young fellow might not get the death penalty since he was too young. I don’t normally look forward to hearing from him.
Russ announced my name (he doesn’t say my name; he announces it) and began. “I’m calling to talk about this here election,” he stated. I took a breath and waited for him to continue. I used to think Russ talked to me and my old housemates to get us riled up. Then when I realized he knew we wouldn’t get riled up and talked to us anyway, I assumed he talked to us to convince us or to have an educated political discussion. Finally, I think I’ve concluded that he talks to us simply because we’re the only ones who listen to him.
“I think I’m realizing that, out of all the damn candidates out there, there is only one who is worth anything. McCain is gonna be another damn Bush, and I don’t want to see him giving all our money to the damn Israelis. Hillary…I don’t know what to think about her. I think Barak Obama is the only candidate out there who is worth voting for.”
I wished I had been chewing something so I could have choked on it.
“Russ…” I started, but didn’t know how to continue. “Well Russ, I had thought you had already done all the surprising me you were going to do, but this is about the most surprising thing I’ve heard all year.”
The 61-year-old Arian Nationalist who has spent 30 years in jail continued to talk about how Obama seemed to be the only one who might be open-minded in international politics and keep us from making so many enemies, and I sat dumbfounded.
I know some people who think Obama is going to be America’s savoir. I know others who think he is the antichrist. Both positions seem just as unlikely to me (and I am amused that the former is given so much more credibility), but hearing a former klansman declare his full support behind the first black presidential candidate seems like it could support either case. One way or another, it spoke a simple message to me in this Resurrection season:
People can change.
Russ is nowhere near a full transformation, and Obama is not going to be the man to give it to him if he ever gets it. Redemption is slow, and it is only ever partially complete. But somehow, maybe partially due to 30 years in prison, maybe partially due to his friendship with a group of young idealistic Christians living in community in the inner-city, maybe due to none of those things, the man who was brought to tears as a boy when he saw his city was going to “go down the tubes” with integration was able to consider a black man to be not as hateful as the other candidates.
If Russ can consider Obama as even a possibility, maybe I, little 25-year-old me, am not as permanently flawed as I often believe.