I've been away book-touring, so I haven't posted here for a long time. I'll be leaving again tomorrow as well, but it's been wonderful to be home this week of the election, and to reconnect with my ESL students. They are mostly Chinese, with one Thai woman and a Columbian for an interesting variety of perspective.
The Chinese students work about sixty hours a week among local Chinese restaurants, so they're always tired, always dragging a bit to class, yawning, and resigned to nothing more than their present routine throughout their lives. They're working for their children, and have no expectations for themselves.
But yesterday, the morning after the election, the students walked quickly into class, their heads up, making eye-contact. It made me smile, and I asked M., one of the three with citizenship so that he could vote, if he was happy. "Yes," he said. "Yesterday I make my dream come true."
Another, L., had stayed up late to see Obama's acceptance speech. Despite the fact that she'd had only a few hours' sleep and was facing into another 12-hour work day, she looked fresher, more alert than I'd ever seen her. She said her son, in his last year at N.Y.U. and eyeing a particularly tough job-market, had called in tears after the speech. "Now we have hope," she said.
I know that M. and L. were thinking of their children when they said these things, but I find great comfort in Obama's shining the light for a few moments of these last few days on people like my students themselves. He eulogized his grandmother, who died election eve, as an unsung hero.
As someone new to the definition of hero, having had to research and write my way to an understanding of my father's sacrifice in WWII in my late-fifties, I finally can appreciate people who uncomplainingly sacrifice sleep, comfort, status, dignity, vacations, health, any hope of retirement, and even their lives - for future generations. In Dreams of My Father, Obama's grandmother has to forfeit her dreams for retirement after her husband's sales career stalls, and re-enter the work-force in middle-age, slowly working her way up at a local bank. Obama makes her sacrifice come alive in showing her pretzling herself every morning into a suit and heels, coming home at night with aching feet to cook dinner.
Before I got home from my recent book-trip, I was bemoaning the fact that the economic debacle will make it impossible for my husband to retire next year as we'd planned. It only took a day back with my students to realize how lucky I am that we can think of retirement at all, any time.