essays on suffering and awakening

Thank you, Mr. Obama

I’m really going to miss him. 

I was living in a dorm just a few blocks from the White House the night President Obama was elected. Students cheered and flooded down to Pennsylvania Avenue and the next morning the air was electric. He was our Robert Kennedy, but alive and victorious, and we thought that maybe, he would lead us somewhere new.

He did, but not in the way I thought he would. In his first inaugural address, he referenced a passage from Corinthians when he said “the time has come to set aside childish things.” The line stuck out to me as I watched him speak on that cold January day.

I think he knew better than to believe himself a savior, and I think he was trying to tell us not to believe it either. Indeed, through his failures, he helped teach me that no one person, no matter how brilliant, inspired and charismatic, has the power to save anyone else. Not really. He helped teach me that our heroes are human too, and that rather than looking to them to save us, we have to each take responsibility for ourselves, and our own growth and awakening. 

But through his successes, he also taught me how much difference one person can make. He showed me that someone who really believes in humanity—in the power and love within all people—can light up the world, even if they alone can’t fix it.

He did all this while carrying himself with dignity, acting with decency, and knowing how to laugh. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always had the sense that he cared and that he was doing the best he could. I felt better just knowing he was there.

President Obama spent his last weeks in office commuting the sentences of almost a thousand people in federal prison. Most presidents issue a few pardons near the end, but this was an unprecedented act of mercy and compassion. I can’t imagine a better example to leave on.

Thank you, Mr. President. May the wind be at your back and the sun shine warm on your face. 

Ian Cooper