This morning in my quiet time, a quotation returned to mind that I learned for my French A Level exam when I was seventeen.
I had been thinking about Barack Obama. I’ve been reading about the achievements of his presidency, which have been significant and impressive.
At the time of his first election, I was living in Aylesbury, where I knew very few people and was far from my family. I spent a lot of time alone. It was then I first began to explore social networking on the internet, because I was lonely and in a very difficult patch in my life; but I hadn’t got very far with it then.
I don’t have a good grasp of US politics. Some things seem clear to me. I can see that both the UK and the US are good at lining their nests with feathers fashioned by people far away who live in appalling poverty. I can see that UK and US lives are cushioned and protected, yet the weapons of war that tear apart lives and lay swathes of the world to waste can be traced back to our factories and politicians, we who speak of God and plant our gardens. Personally and individually we have so little power and our freedom is more limited than we think – and yet is that not the method by which political control operates? The comfort in one place and the suffering in another are not unconnected. And I don’t know what to do, except in my personal sphere try to cultivate peace and kindness, try to limit the harm my life does, pray that all beings may be peaceful, may be at ease.
So, not being a politically knowledgeable person, at the time of Obama’s first election I knew next to nothing about the candidates and was surprised when the Spirit called me to pray. And pray. And pray. The Spirit said to me that Obama was the man for this season, and that he would bring hope to a people who had had no hope.
Before the election was done and the votes all in (I was paying attention by this time), the Spirit said to me that I could stop praying, it was done. And because of this odd calling to prayer, I’ve always had a soft spot for Obama and a special interest in his presidency. I never prayed for an American president before.
As time has gone on, I’ve felt proud of him and also disappointed in him. I’ve seen principle and vision mixed with pragmatism that at times has had to be callous and calculated.
And this is where the French exam quotation came in, from Albert Camus’ play, Les Mains Sales.
It was this (an experienced politician addressing a young visionary):
“Moi, j’ai les mains sales. Jusqu'aux coudes. Je les ai plongées dans la merde et dans le sang. Et puis après? Est-ce-que tu t’imagines qu’on peut gouverner innocement?”
That spoke to me today. I think that’s how it has been with Obama. He is still shining, but his time in office has aged him.