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Hitting the Reset Button on the 21st Century


Maybe we were just behind schedule. Could it be that we simply got a late start launching the REAL New American Century?

There is an argument to be made that THIS, NOW, is the new and more formal start to the 21st Century, or perhaps it will be, come January 20th, 2009. Just a little under a decade late. I always felt that crossing that proverbial Millennium Bridge from the 20th to the 21st Centuries was going to bring us to a whole new world as well as a new era. Perhaps it’s just that we got distracted, fell off the roadway and got lost, and took an eight year detour through the weeds.

The new millennium (as most conventionally marked it, almost eight years ago) SHOULD have started with a bang as big as this one. Instead we limped into it, at the end of 2000, with a presidential campaign whose conclusion was questionable and murky as Hell. It was a campaign that was anything but decisive and one that will forever be suspect, scarred with an asterisk in the books. That shadow has stalked us for what will wind up being eight long and rather anguished years – a period that felt unreal, unbelievable, almost like a hostage hold. If anything, it was a misfire. A false start.

And to quote a fellow who caught our attention and set much of our collective imagination on fire, “not this time.”

All day long, throughout Election Day 2008, things felt different. As one of our friends said at the Election Night party we threw, the previous night felt a little like Christmas Eve – the Christmas Eve we middle-agers remembered from our childhood, when the excitement and sense of hopeful expectation threatened to keep us up, buzzing and electric with anticipation, long past the time when Santa was supposed to have slipped stealthily down the chimney.

My daughter’s absentee ballot arrived from her distant college campus. She’d Fed-Ex’ed it priority-overnight, for us to sign and hand-carry over to our neighborhood polling place. We took pictures. And we brought home an “I Voted” sticker to stick on her picture that sits on the mantle above the living room fireplace. We held our breath all day, fairly obsessed with the wonderment - can we dare to hope for a big celebration? Might we actually win this one? Free and clear, and uncontestable even? As a tall, eloquent, still-young Chicagoan along the trail boldly declared, many, many months ago – “yes we can.”

And we did.

And after all the angst and the gnawing of fingernails and cuticles, the sleepless nights, the verbal blows and insults from other corners, and fears of replays of recent Election Night treachery, I guess I finally felt like ringing in a new year, and yes, a new century. I actually felt like throwing off my caution and hesitation and daring to have some fun even while fighting superstition that I myself might wind up jinxing the whole thing.

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We stuck “HOPE” posters up on the walls. We scattered random campaign buttons across the buffet table. We set out cans of Arizona Ice Tea, whipped up Delaware seafood dip for a platter of Maui potato chips. We picked up sweet potato pie and paired it with Vermont maple sugar to sprinkle on top if desired – my own personal homage to Howard Dean and his successful 50-State Strategy (my heart STILL belongs to “Hollerin’ Howard). We procured half-a-dozen Chicago deep-dish pizzas – one of them Hawaiian, to serve with a colorful array of fresh and dried pineapple and papaya chunks. The piece-de-resistance was a luscious rounded chocolate mousse (moose) cake carefully field-dressed and adorned with meticulously hand-crafted pipe cleaner antlers. That earned great, relieved giggles as friends arrived, and decided not to wait to exhale after all. It was time to celebrate and to quench an eight-year thirst, and feel hopeful as we watched the returns come in. It had been a long, painful, and heart-breaking drought.

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By the end of the evening, grocery bags of tear-bloated Kleenex dotted the room. We screamed, cried, hooted, hugged, clapped, jumped up and down, and cried and hugged some more. We were half a country away from Grant Park in Chicago, where the faces of Jesse Jackson and Oprah were just another two Americans spotted in among a near quarter-million weeping, cheering, roaring citizens in the crowd. It had been so long – SO long since we felt happy like this, SO long since we felt like we’d actually been heard, SO long since we felt included, SO long since we felt like WE actually mattered. This one couldn’t be spun, smeared, or stolen. Not this time.

Those old ways no longer worked, nor did they matter anymore. We finally arrived at the portal of a truly, definitively new century. A page had indeed been turned. One chapter had been finished and a genuinely new one had begun - and rather decisively, too. Chapter? Perhaps beyond even that. Possibly an entire new book was now opening up before us all. The hope of newness and change and an undeniable shift in direction and priorities carried us as a nation over an historic threshold.

On this morning after, we are not the same as we were. Not anymore. It’s this earth-shaking episode in America’s story that’s bigger and more momentous than any one thing, or any one of us. MANY of us who’d felt shut out, ignored, neglected, mocked, and even demonized, were finally heard, and finally saw ourselves counted in and represented, too – regardless what color we are or whichever political way we lean.

We now have an actual, tangible chance at a new beginning. Seems like everyone recognizes it, across the country and around the world. Even many of the oppositional pundits agree on this one. The REAL “New American Century” has finally begun. And it’s some project we now have on our hands, alright. The Obama rout on November 4th, 2008, has made that clear. We are different, renewed, maybe even redeemed. A big enough evolution that it perhaps required almost a decade longer than anyone expected to lift it off the launching pad.

We can hopefully now move beyond the last eight mistaken and aberrant years when something weird just came over us and we were not ourselves. Our better angels finally got here, and found us, and we look like America again – an America where WE ALL are numbered among those “real, patriotic Americans” that some of our opponents could see only in small, narrow, resentful, fearful, judgmental, divisive, and politically-segregated pockets of geography AND of mindset.

We are ALL new and improved, in a different time and place than even just a day or so before. New Year’s Day came early this time, even if the new American millennium came eight years late.


Now we can all hit the Reset button – and roll up our sleeves, and begin again, revitalized, and renewed. We get to make a fresh start now, and usher in a new, reinvigorated and redefined era. There’s a lot of work to do. At long last, the real 21st Century for America to lead is about to begin.

Mary Lyon

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