Last Monday night, June 25. I’m driving home from the first meeting of my second grad class, a colloquium on American Slavery. It’s only Monday and I’m already exhausted, thinking of the lesson plan I have to send in in less than 24 hours in order to be done with my first grad class that finished the week before. As I descend the ramp to get on the Pike, feeling home free and dreaming of my bed, I see the cars in front of me stop, with what looks to be a police officer dressed in a neon vest waving his arms over his head to get us to all stop. I’m only about 10 cars back from the end of the ramp, thinking, “Really? I was SO close…if only I had left a minute or two earlier I might be on my way home, nothing but the open road in front of me for my 40 minute commute!” Well good thing I wasn’t, because I was about to witness something that would make me feel like the adult equivalent to a Justin Bieber fan.
I notice the car in front of me turn it’s engine off and I think, “What does he know that I don’t?” My mind races through the possible horror movie scenarios…maybe there is a crazed gunman on the highway, or structural issues with the overpass I was just about to drive under. A well-dressed Indian man steps out of the white Honda in front of me and looks back and forth. I glance in my rear-view mirror and see a younger professional woman at the side of her car, looking perplexed. I step out of my little black coupe and ask the man in front of me if he can see anything. He shakes his head. At this point, there is a clear line of cars behind us. Some horns honk from far back – clearly, they have no idea we have been stopped by the police. I get back in my car and wonder if it’s worth shutting the engine off – we clearly aren’t going anywhere soon. Without internet on my phone, or the patience to scour radio stations for traffic reports, I call my mom at home and ask her to look up reports online. Then, I see a stream of blue flashing lights. “Must be some really bad accident,” I somewhat mechanically think as I explain where exactly I am to my mother. And then it registers that there have been at least 5 motorcycle cops who have zoomed by. Then more, and more. Several people have exited their cars at this point to look over the edge of our on-ramp. I follow suit. I hear the word “president” to my right and look to see a balding man and his son, who looks about 7, walk away from their big, black pick-up truck. Both wear Red Sox shirts – the embodiment of New England men, yet a contrast to the Indian man who is also at the edge of the ramp with his wife. I reach the edge and look down over the short wall, still on the phone with my mother who has just suggested that maybe someone important is in the area upon hearing about the multitude of motorcycle cops. I look directly below me and see an SUV, then a limo. The limo seems familiar. Two flags flap in the wind of the highway – an American flag and the flag bearing the seal of the President of the United States.
That’s when I recall a tweet I saw earlier in the day about Preesident Obama being in Massachusetts.
DID THE PRESIDENT JUST DRIVE BY ME?!?!?!?!?!
I squeal like a little girl to my mother, almost incapable of making words. The Indian man in front of me is beaming. “Can you believe it?” he exclaims. “Obama is here!”
Now I have been relatively indifferent on President Obama’s term as president. There are stories I hear that make me approve of him, and then the next day I hear a story that makes me sigh with disappointment. But in that moment of feeling starstruck at the LIMO of the President, I realized something: as an American, I will always have respect for the sovereign head of state. Obama was elected by the will of a free people, and for that, I must respect him. We all should. Millions in the world dream of such a right to elect anyone in their nation, nevermind the head of it. And so many of us throw away this right through general voter apathy and a lack of civic spiritedness. But why?
As I got back in my car once the complete motorcade passed by, I was struck by something else. What a beautiful scene of America I had just taken part in. The middle class father with his young son, the boy undoubtedly making a memory he’ll never forget as he and his father watched the President drive by. The Indian man and his wife, his accent revealing that he is not originally from this country, but his school-boy excitement mirroring my own nonetheless. The woman behind me, most likely a young professional, whose silent curiosity reminded me of my own. And me, a recent college grad and newly licensed teacher, and thus heavily invested in any and all laws pertaining to education. In one instant, despite never having met each other and clearly all very different from each other, we were united on an on-ramp in curiosity and awe as the President of our nation drove by. And I was leaving a HISTORY class on AMERICAN SLAVERY as the nation’s first black president drove by me. How is THAT for a beautiful irony?