I watched the map of the USA turn blue, State by State, behind the talking heads, while they vamped to 11:00 pm EST. But there were never quite enough blue Electoral College votes. The networks had agreed to not call the election until the polls closed in the PST zone, and they never let the numbers even call it for them. So we hung there, suspended between hope and belief, and the great fear we were wrong, until the Pacific witching hour. At that moment, nearly every remaining State flipped from neutral gray to red or blue, and most of them were blue. There were enough. We would have our first black president. And I, a sixty-six-year-old, white, farm-raised ex-soldier and grandfather, sat in front of my not-quite-one-year-old HDTV and wept.
But there were no tears. I sat there in front of that TV, and wondered at my tearless weeping. The joy and wonder of the moment was not lessened, and no one knew but I, that the well of my tears of joy had been drawn dry by an excess of tears of grief.
On a cold and moonless November, 1963, morning in Chun Chon, South Korea, with the skies gray and drizzling three hours before sun-up, I stood beside my ambulance, sidearm hooked to my web belt, and wept for a young President who'd had all the promise in the world. And now he was gone, and the world seemed bleak and scary. I waited for the attack that never came. And I wept.
I wept the day we sat for hours around our TVs and watched as men in suits and sunglasses swarmed over the balcony walkway of a motel where a young minister named Martin had died, shot from across the courtyard as he left the motel in the morning. His great dream seemed almost unattainable that day. If we didn't have him, who would lead us? So, I wept - for the loss of the man, and the loss of the dream.
Yet again I wept. A strange little man with a double name destroyed our next best hope. Bobby died from a bullet to the brain, and we all died a little with him. By then, the vigils were less intense, because, I believe we sensed that we were sliding away a little as these leaders died. Bobby saw things that should have been, and he said, Why not? And he set out to make them be. For that, he died. And I wept for the last time.
I did not weep at the death of my mother. Her life was long and filled with success on behalf of others. And I could not summon tears of grief. I did not weep at the death of my father. He had grieved himself to death after the death of his beloved Pat, and it took him ten years to do it. So I could not weep for him when he was gone.
But I thought that well was separate from the well from which I might draw tears of joy. I thought that if a black man were elected to the Presidency of the USA, surely I would weep for joy. I could not. I thought then that surely on this day of his inauguration, I would weep for the sheer wonder of it. But I could not. We lost years against this day (Martin thought it might happen within a quarter century from 1963), because our great dreamers were assassinated. But we came on, and today we inaugurate our FIRST black President. And I cannot weep. The wells of tears are interconnected and dry. But we've done it. I am content.