I just came across this beautiful e-mail written by Barack Obama's half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and thought it encapsulated so many wonderful things about this exceptional family. It has been one hell of a week for Democrats, celebrating this historic victory. But I think amidst the festive spirit, we have forgotten one important thing: this is a family in mourning. It was only last Monday that we heard the sad news that Barack and Maya had lost their Grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, and even something as amazing as winning the Presidency, is not going to take that pain away. In the wake of the victory, Maya was so inundated with phone calls and e-mails that she, like a lot of us end up doing, decided to send a mass e-mail to everyone to let them know how she is doing. She also gave permission for the e-mail to be released to the Honolulu press, and there is where we are given a glimpse of what makes this family tick.
I am going to offer some excerpts and thoughts on this extraordinary e-mail, but I urge you to read the whole thing yourself, with a warning that it is in a PDF file. Maya is clearly the caregiver of the family, having taken care of her grandmother for eight years. I think people need to really take in this fact. While Barack was embarking on an incredible journey to the presidency, he was rest assured that his sister was making sure the family was alright in Hawaii. That means a lot, and shows how much the family has been a great unit in making sure this dream could be achieved. I wouldn't call it a sacrifice, since this was love at work, but it is clear now that Maya is as much a hero to her family as Barack may be to many of us, in his brilliant Presidential campaign. When Barack spoke of the "quiet heroes", it seems to me that Maya is one of them:
Maya Soetoro-Ng could have accepted her brother's invitation to be at his side on Election Night in Chicago. But Barack Obama's sister knew where she belonged.
As she had for much of the past eight years, Soetoro-Ng stayed in the two-bedroom apartment on Beretania Street where she had taken care of their maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham.
Dunham had died of cancer just two nights before at the age of 86, with Soetoro-Ng at her side. Then, on the day that Obama was elected as America's first black president, Dunham's koa urn arrived and Soetoro-Ng surrounded it with pictures of Dunham's late daughter, Stanley Ann Dunham, Dunham's grandchildren and her great-grandchildren, "all of us who benefited so much from her steady voice and hand," Soetoro-Ng wrote.
I thought you all would also enjoy reading this paragraph, as it concerns the great outpouring from Barack's supporters, including this site, for Madelyn Dunham, who was moved by it, but took it in stride as well:
Dunham, whom Obama called "Toot" after the Hawaiian word for grandparent, tutu, never showed self-pity or fear as she faced the end of her life, Soetoro-Ng wrote.
But Dunham could be wickedly funny.
"When she saw the number of flowers that had been sent to her," Soetoro-Ng wrote, "she said, 'Oh my ... with all of this hullabaloo, it's going to be embarrassing if I DON'T die.' I gave her a chuckle and of course told her that I wouldn't at all mind such an embarrassment, and then I invited her to stay and dance with me into the new year. She couldn't stay, but she certainly tried, and defied expectations again and again."
Can everyone now see where Barack gets his steadiness and sense of humor from?
From the sadness of the loss of her grandmother, Maya then addresses her brother's victory:
The "relief I feel has everything to do with the profound faith I have in Barack's leadership and vision for this country," she wrote. "I wept tears of joy for all of us on Tuesday. He may not be a perfect man. Certainly, he has often said that he'll likely be an imperfect president, but he is a good man, a smart man, a disciplined soul who balances temperance with determination and courage. We've made a great choice, I assure you."
I don't know about the rest of you, but hearing this from his sister is very reassuring. She does not put him on a pedestal, but offers insights as to what kind of person he is, this being based on a lifetime of observing him through his ups and downs.
Finally, we learn of Maya's dedication to teaching, and the fact that she just quietly does good work without fanfare because she believes in her kids (or, actually, her "pumpkins" -- I just love that):
"In addition to wrapping my tutu's life, I need to prepare to teach my pumpkins, as I resume work next week," she wrote. "... I am going (to) read through dozens of potentially useful new resources to use with the kids, while I look up at the too-seldom seen canopy of stars, and snuggle with my husband and daughter."
Thank you, Maya, for all that you have done for your family and community, and for allowing us to know that you are doing well. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.