Saturday, January 24, 2009


A number of people have asked me why I cried for almost two hours during Obama's inauguration. I had a lot of trouble explaining my tears until I got an email from my friend Liz in which she included an article written by Emily Yoffe that was posted in Slate Magazine on December 3, 2008. Here is a quote from the article that explains my tears from a kind of scientific perspective:

In his forthcoming book, Born To Be Good (which is not a biography of Obama), Dacher Keltner [a professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley] writes that he believes when we experience transcendence, it stimulates our vagus nerve, causing "a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat." For the 66 million Americans who voted for Obama, that experience was shared on Election Day, producing a collective case of an emotion that has only recently gotten research attention. It's called "elevation."

Elevation has always existed but has just moved out of the realm of philosophy and religion and been recognized as a distinct emotional state and a subject for psychological study.

Bush was not my president. His policies and choices were antithetical to mine. By the time he started his second term of office, I had stopped listening to NPR completely, and when I subscribed to the New York Times, I often skipped reading the first section if there were articles about Bush's government. I could not stand the sound of his voice. It grated on my nerves like chalk on a board. As my mother would have said, I hid my head in the sand like an ostrich for 8 years because I couldn't abide with the President.

About 4 years ago, I listened to a book by Barack Obama, Dreams of My Father. That was the first time that I experienced what I now understand to be "elevation." At the end of the book, there was a recording of his speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004. I was outside working in the yard and listening to the speech on my iPod. I remember that I was so taken by the speech that I sat down in the dirt, trowel in hand, to give it my full attention. When he finished speaking, I pressed rewind and listened again simply to sustain the "feeling of spreading liquid warmth" in my chest. A few days later, I bought The Audacity of Hope by Obama. I simply wanted to drown myself in this man's words.

Now he is MY President.

And I'm constantly seeking news of him-- on NPR, on the Internet, and on the TV. I simply can't get enough of those "Obama-lofted heights."

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Nice explanation, Patricia! I had no idea you read Barack before he ever even thought about running for wonder you had such an emotional response! I didn't think he became an author until he was running for president...shame on me!