On Opportunities Made and Missed

On Sunday night, the intense crossfire between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump awakened in me admiration for the abilities of one and anger at the attacks of the other. As did many others, I have experienced vicariously the emotional rollercoaster of this election season. I woke up early the next morning, my heart still racing with adrenaline, when I saw an ad on my news feed: “Cancel your plans for Tuesday: Hillary Clinton and Al Gore are coming to Miami!” I shot up out of bed and signed up to attend.

Flash forward to the rally: standing on my tiptoes to surpass my short stature, I strained, squinting at the speakers through the blinding light. It is surreal to see someone you have only known in flat images and screens: it is like seeing a picture pop up into full flesh and dynamic dimension, and appear suddenly before you in living, breathing form.

The moment I saw her, my heart burst with joy. I could barely pay attention to the words spoken as I squirmed with surprise. Hillary is impeccable in person: confident and poised, intelligent and articulate, collected and calm, and beaming with radiance from ear to ear. Her eyes and mind are as sharp as her poise and presence. Yet despite this diligence and detail, there are still those who critique her attitude and appearance, who question her judgment and oppose her decisions. Only when standing fewer than fifty feet away from her could I truly appreciate what has been called the impossibly high standards held for her, simply because she is a she.

Then came Al Gore, who graciously gave Hillary his support with his own example in mind as he stated: “Every. Single. Vote. Counts.” while the crowd cheered, “You won!”

When the two stepped off the stage, we scrambled toward the railing for selfies. I squeezed up almost to the front row, heart pounding as I awaited my turn.

As we stood gawking, a man in front of me called out, “Huma! Can I have a selfie?” And she came toward us, more brilliant and bold than any photograph could portray. I about opened my mouth to ask for one too when the moment passed and Abedin returned to the group of staffers surrounding Hillary.

As Huma walked away, I realized that the two women had both faced their husband’s infidelity and the public’s scrutiny. And it struck me that there they stood, stronger than ever, more confident, resilient, and thick-skinned than I could ever be.

And then, Hillary stood about a foot away from me, beaming at the crowd. A woman reached out her hand to speak to Hillary.

What would I give to be next?

How could I express my remembrances of reading her biographies when I was little; becoming inspired to apply to and attending her alma mater, Wellesley, so that I could follow in her footsteps; writing in her name on the ballot the first time I could vote in college in 2012; admiring her contributions to women’s work and children’s causes as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State; and augmenting my admiration while connecting with fellow alumnae committed to registering voters and supporting her campaign — how I could express all of this in one blurted-out comment that in the heat of the moment might be misheard or even misconstrued as disrespect or disingenuity?

Instead, I stood stupidly with a wide grin on my face, frozen in time as she passed by. I missed a selfie as I squished against the crowd, unable to extend my arm out so that I could capture myself meeting Hillary. I only managed to snap a spontaneous shot of her triumphant smile. In a split second, I had let go of seizing a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and I may always regret the dreams that could almost have been fulfilled.

Yet how small and insignificant my missed chance seemed when compared with those of the two speakers, who had each missed the greatest of opportunities with the smallest of margins: Hillary Clinton, who four years ago was not “able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time,” but “thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it;” and Al Gore, who sixteen years ago stood before a similar situation and told us this time that “you can consider me as an Exhibit A of the truth” that “your vote really, really, really counts.”

To conquer over the audience with confidence and calm amidst cheering and calling, to show strength and solidarity toward self and society during setback and suffering, to tackle and transcend turbulent and trying times with tenacity, to pursue one’s purpose with persistence and power despite pressures to pull back: this is the American spirit that through sound and silence inspires, elevates, and uplifts us all.

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