In praise of abandonment

January 18th, 2009

All my life, I have been stitching together a family – Barack

I read a fascinating piece in The New Yorker the other day. It became more fascinating days after I read it, as the implications surfaced in all kinds of other events right before my eyes. It’s from an interview more than 10 years ago of the young Obama couple. It’s delightfully honest, because you can see the truth and trajectory in what they say long before it was made known to them or to us.

There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career – Michelle

You can hear the foreboding, see the vulnerability, in her words and her picture. She describes herself as more traditional, more risk-averse, pretty private. She is so much like many of us, with a family background so much more like the rest of us, without ambiguity, and yet we see ourselves so clearly in him. How so?

I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me – Barack

Reading this I thought, wow, having a family is like an adventure to him, a journey. Because he didn’t have the kind of family that brings with it such an overriding sense of identity, such confining identity, he is free of expectations. He is comfortable with mystery even in those he loves. His arms are wide; his pose is relaxed and natural. On this wide open face, we have projected our hopes and dreams, and he alone can bear them.

Even as you build a life of trust, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person – Barack

How many of us can say that? Do that? Withstand and pursue that? How many of us can abandon our expectations and free those we love from the prison of being who we think they are? Who we want them to be? This is the recipe for all loving relationships and the point of an article I wrote for the February issue of Shambhala Sun entitled, radically enough, “Parents, Leave Your Home.” If you subscribe, you’ll get the magazine any day. If you don’t, you’ll see it at the Whole Foods checkout. Or, you can download it from my website right now by scrolling down the home page to a list of my articles and anthologies.

Thank you, Mr. President, for making me part of your family. You encourage me to do the same with my own. Let them be. Let them be a mystery. Let them be home wherever they roam.


  1. I read that article too. Actually my husband read it first and was incredibly impressed. He had me read it that very second.

    I can’t even begin to tell you how good I feel to have President Obama at the helm. He is intelligent, thoughtful, caring and introspective. He will usher us through the next four years with grace. This is a good week for the United States!

    Now off to read more of your lovely intelligent and introspective writing … I am indeed lucky.

    Comment by Shalet — January 18, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  2. I am so happy that I found your blog. Thank you especially for this post which directs me to even more inspiration. I love stopping by here – thank you again.

    Comment by Librarian Lee — January 19, 2009 @ 2:16 am

  3. this is wonderful. I am going to try to locate the interview today to read the whole article. I love your words here, they have made me think and I will continue to think about this concept throughout the day.

    Comment by curious girl (lisa) — January 19, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  4. Thanks for sharing the enlightening quotes and article. I miss so much reading nowadays, that links like these help me keep in touch with what’s going on.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow.

    Comment by Rowena — January 19, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

  5. Thanks, Karen, for bringing those quotes and those beautiful words to me. I look forward to reading the article in its entirety.

    Let’s Celebrate!!!

    Comment by GailNHB — January 19, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

  6. Thanks Karen-
    I am so getting a subscription to this magazine. Your article was so well written and inspirational. Thanks for your wisdom.

    Comment by Bridge — January 19, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  7. is anyday today?
    now i’m even more excited for my mail than usual.
    and this family, well…my faith in the mystery of what will come is unbridled.

    Comment by jessamyn — January 19, 2009 @ 8:56 pm

  8. I’m off to get a fresh cup of coffee, read your article, and watch the inauguration (Michelle’s wearing yellow!).

    I think that it’s going to be a good day.

    Comment by Mama Zen — January 20, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

  9. I too was struck by his comment about stitching together a family — so true! I eagerly await my copy of Shambhala Sun to read your piece.

    Comment by Judy Merrill-Smith — January 20, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

  10. It occured to me today it had been a few days since I had visied your page and I am – as always – grateful that I came by.

    You seem to always have reminders for me of what is important.

    Thank you

    Comment by Cat — January 21, 2009 @ 1:52 am

  11. Wow, thank you for this. I hadn’t read this article. It’s incredibly poignant to read it tonight, after watching the inauguration.

    Comment by single mom seeking — January 21, 2009 @ 7:14 am

  12. Thank you for the link. I’ll hadn’t seen the article. I’ve been struck by the joy on Obama’s face in recent days. It’s a beautiful thing to see, I think because he’s being himself.

    Comment by Mary Ann — January 24, 2009 @ 7:03 pm

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