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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
I have to admit that I smiled, perhaps even emitted a small fan-boy sigh, upon learning that Barack Obama will visit Halifax on Nov. 13 to talk about leadership, hope, and civic engagement at the Scotiabank Centre.
The talk marks the 70th anniversary of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council. (Watch for details about bowl tickets, which go on sale on June 29.)
And, although we should all be thankful for everything those financial institutions have done and continue to do for Nova Scotians, that isn’t why I entered some serene space on Monday morning, a time when I am seldom at my best.
I don’t have to tell you that we live in dangerous, unsettling times.
It, therefore, does the soul good to know that, thanks to the Nova Scotia Co-Operative Council, Obama is coming our way. We just have to make it to Nov. 13, then everything will be OK. (Won’t it?)
Gone from power for 2½ years, Obama still matters, perhaps, in a way, more than ever.
The Dalai Lama, in my view, is the world’s moral compass.
Still inspiring hope
Obama on the other hand, is merely a politician who seems beyond partisanship, above petty jealousies and old grudges. A man asking us always to take the high road, to think of the big picture, giving us, forever, hope.
That, my friends, is something.
He seems to hover over our time, even for someone living in a far-off Maritime city as I do.
I was glued to the tube during Game Two of the NBA finals when Obama, a lefty hoopster himself, made an appearance in Toronto, and we Canadians stood and cheered because, on a night when our Raptors lost, his mere presence softened the blow.
He got a standing ovation in Ottawa as well, after sipping a craft beer with his bro Justin Trudeau, when he exhorted a large crowd at an Ottawa think-tank event not to give up hope, despite all of the bad news in the world.
The other night I was rewatching an old episode of Parts Unknown, and there he was, cool in the Vietnamese heat, slurping cheap noodles with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, proving as Rolling Stone wrote of the pair “that being a proud American doesn’t have to mean you’re a close-minded nativist.”
It isn’t just that Obama is the polar opposite of his successor: calm and wise when Trump is intemperate and infantile, all style and class compared to the louche, gauche current president.
It is, in this time of preening politicians everywhere pandering to their base, and denying the seemingly undeniable to win votes and perhaps power, his message that this doesn’t have to be so.
It doesn’t have to be us versus them. Progress for everyone is possible or, at very least, worth aspiring to. The world, against all other evidence, can get better.
That, I suspect, is what he will bring to Halifax.
Soaring rhetorical heights
During a previous life, I wrote a few speeches. To try to get the hang of the craft I binge-watched YouTube videos of Obama, over and over again, at the podium.
It was mesmerizing, way more riveting than Game of Thrones.
The slowed-down cadence (during his most memorable speeches he spoke at 112 words per minute, compared to 150-200 words per minute in everyday conversation).
The soaring rhetorical heights he reached.
But there was also something that you see in the Bourdain chat: his ability, as NPR has written, to “appear comfortable whether scripted or extemporaneous.”
To inhabit the words he speaks, because it seems to me, that what he says he believes.
He always speaks of a way forward, rather than back. A new future is out there, just beyond the horizon he said over and over again, at which point the audience only had to look upon him, because he was living truth.
My brain is too small, my reading too slim, to judge his foreign policy which many have found wanting. I’m not even going to hazard a guess at his legacy in terms of the economy and social issues.
Instead, I’ll just stick with something I know: even in far-away Halifax I felt better with a man of character, brains and grace at the helm of the United States.
It will be great to see him in the flesh and hear his words, to be reassured that he is still out there, and that, even in bleak times, there is the promise of better days.