In my experience, when you have lupus, you don't often get to say "I was there". You hear about events after the fact. You are the one who can't volunteer in advance because you don't know if you will wake up healthy on the appointed day, or if your swollen knee will allow you to walk the required distance, or if your energy will abandon you midway through the event. So while everyone else is racking up experiences, you are hearing about them second-hand.
Yesterday the President came to Chattanooga. THE President. Of the United States. And I was there.
I had slept crazily-a long nap the night before, then awake working from 1 to 5 in the morning. My sister called me at 7:30 a.m. waking me from my early morning rest and told me "they" were meeting before 9 a.m. in a mall parking lot to volunteer for the Obama visit. I asked no questions. I showered, dressed and left, pulling on a ball cap as I hurried out the front door. A 12-pack of waters sat in my passenger seat from the previous day's shopping. Good, I was ready.
At the parking lot were organizers from Organizing for Action (formerly Organizing for America). We signed in and were given signs and instructions. My group headed for the industrial complex to station ourselves outside the plant where the President was speaking. I arrived, meandered a bit, and found parking in an undesignated but unblocked street. We posted ourselves at the edge of a large traffic circle directly in front of the plant and settled in to wait. The sister who had wakened me called others to recruit bodies. Most people were excited at the prospect, and eventually joined us, including two more of my sisters. It was the first time the four of us had been together in a couple of years.
As the crowd grew, it was evident that most of us were Obama supporters, although there were many who didn't voice an allegiance but were there because it was an event worth celebrating. The negative voices were a tiny minority in the area where I waited. I met many people, from a 6 month old baby to an older man with an "Old White Guys for Obama" sign. The folks were from as far away as two hundred miles, and many were from places where I know they are in the extreme minority with their progressive views. We exchanged stories about everything from shopping to living in our respective political environments.
The wait quickly grew long and hot. We had arrived knowing that we had at least a three hour wait ahead. Some were very prepared, with coolers and lawn chairs and umbrellas. Others were like me-startled out of bed, rushing to make the event with no time for planning. I was happy for my hat. I had grabbed two waters as I left my car, and had my phone and ID in my pocket. People shared what they had. A young boy passed a hat full of hard candy. A group with a case of water, a man with an umbrella, a few folks with extra chairs, people with live coverage on their phones-all these were shared by their owners to make the wait of others easier. People helped to entertain one another's children and my sisters braided the hair of a young woman who was miserably hot. Occasionally the enthusiasm would bubble over into a chant or song or someone would dance a little. Energy remained high.
Mid-morning a group of young men carrying a huge sign, probably 10 x 12 feet, arrived on our stretch of sidewalk. People strolled down to look at the sign and came back agitated. It was rudely anti-Obama, including a naked caricature of the President. When I went down to look at it, all I could think was that the young men were so young. Three looked like they could barely be 20. A fourth hid a young face behind a huge, bristly beard and might have been all of 30. They were somebody's children. I told them all "Good morning", asked if they had water and felt okay in the hot sun. All answered politely. I made no attempt to discuss politics. I just wanted to make eye contact and share some peace.
In the end, the President was whisked in through the back entrance of the plant without us seeing him. I had watched the live feed as his motorcade approached on the interstate, and my excitement at the proximity of him was not dampened. I'm sure that he knew we were there, that Chattanooga had pulled on its big girl panties and showed up for a civil, warm welcome when it mattered.