January 21, 2009
How can your heart not break when a child suffers? But a broken heart gives us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart broken knows the joy of being human, the Hope of a brighter future. My husband Jeff and I, through the eyes of our long-suffering child, look to the inauguration of President Barack Obama as a signal of the strengthening of compassion and understanding and the power of Hope.
Eighteen months ago our 14-year-old son Kevin was slowly dying. Doctors were at a loss for the cause of his illness and a path to cure him. He lived in constant pain and couldn’t eat. The future looked bleak. Just as our country and world needed to pull together against unfathomable national challenges today, our family, friends and community pulled together against Kevin’s difficult health situation to bring a brighter future into our home. Today the Hope that was inspired by the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States is carried into the future by Kevin, his brother Phillip and sister, Katie. Through the belief in a better tomorrow and the support of a dedicated community of family and friends, Hope, together with tenacity, became an inspiring story of overcoming odds.
A few months before his illness, we gathered as a family to hear Senator Obama speak to a sparse crowd in a parking lot in Utah. We did not know how strongly his message of Hope would carry our family through the health, education and financial trials we were to face. The powerful message that our family heard on that summer day in 2007 would echo deeply a year later as Kevin lay in the hospital, heavily sedated from a lifesaving surgery, strains of the convention speeches heard above the beep-beep of the heart monitor. As we had that long ago summer afternoon, we listened to the message of Hope offered up to our country at Mile High Stadium. While we texted with our friends in the audience for Obama’s acceptance speech, we drew strength from a leader bringing to life a message of compassion and understanding; the message of Hope and change. Throughout the election and through Kevin’s pain and suffering, Senator Obama’s speeches became our own personal message of Hope and change.
During the long road to recovery, the nation mirrored our family’s story. The election campaign focused on education. We were reminded of this as teachers came to the hospital and had their classes write notes of support and make paper flowers to cheer on Kevin’s recovery. These teachers donated their spare time acting as tutors to enable him to join his high school buddies back in the classroom. Debates about health-care issues became deeply personal. I struggled to maintain my job while living at the hospital and still being a mom to Phillip and Kate so that my health care did not lapse. I saw children in hospital rooms spending their days alone so that their parents could work. This resonated with my own exhaustion and heartache. I grew to realize the health-care challenges parents of ill children face.
The economy melted, and so did our family’s financial resources. A loan promised from a bank for my husband’s small business evaporated along with our savings. On top of the worry of a child’s health, we had to worry about how we would pay our bills, and if we would be able to send Phillip to college. These were dark days for us; yet a crowd of 100,000 St. Louis Obama supporters reminded us that they, too, believed in Hope, and so should we.
And now we have arrived at a historic time, the inauguration of President Obama. This man, who holds firmly to his message of Hope, continues to strengthen our family through his intellect, his humor, his reason and his compassion. Today we are moved by the contagiousness of Barack Obama’s message of Hope. Hope for Kevin’s recovery, Hope for a strong education system, Hope for a fair health-care system, Hope for a recovered economy. Hope that Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Democrats and citizens of every social, economic and political leaning will work together for the greater good, so that we all might live in a peaceful, prosperous nation respected by other countries.
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Jeremy Ranch resident Vicki Whiting is an associate professor at the Gore School of Business at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.