Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Praise of Older Women...

I've never gotten political on this blog, although my family and friends have no doubt as to my personal beliefs. But I was tremendously moved this morning to read that Senator Barack Obama is taking time off from his presidential campaign at this momentous time, in the eleventh hour before the election (in fact in many states the polls are already open), to visit his gravely ill granny, Madelyn Payne Dunham.

Now, there's a real reason for a candidate to suspend his campaign for a while.

The senator has never shied away from highlighting the importance of his maternal grandmother in his life. In a campaign ad he described her as the daughter of a Midwest oil company clerk who "taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland" -- things like "accountability and self-reliance. Love of country. Working hard without making excuses. Treating your neighbor as you'd like to be treated.

"She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. "

Barack Obama with his grandparents in an undated photo taken --right in my neighborhood -- outside of Central Park, when Obama was a student at Columbia University.

Those words could just as well describe my own grandmothers. Not a day goes by that I do not miss them. I have never met Mrs. Dunham of course, but my eyes mist over when I read about the extraordinary bond she shared with her grandson and the values she passed on to him, because they are so eminently relatable.

My grandmothers encouraged and indulged me as they taught me the ideals of social responsibility, instilled and nurtured the virtues of endless curiosity and creativity, and inspired me to dream. No goal was too lofty or unattainable if I strived for it.

I am who I am -- as a woman, as an artist, and as a citizen -- because of two magnificent older women, each different in her own way from the other, but each of whom shared Mrs. Dunham's Golden Rule creed. All my life I have aspired to "treat [my] neighbor as I would like to be treated." I hope that most times I have succeeded.

And I'd also like to think that a U.S. President who pays such homage to the values instilled in him by his smart, pragmatic, and loving grandmother will be an asset to our country in a time where the culture of "me" -- not "we" -- has contributed to the sorry state of the economy.

Don't forget to give her a good long hug, Senator.

What about you?  Did one or both of your grandmothers play a special role in your life?  What do you remember most about your relationship with her?