For one, good grief that kid is tall! Her dad is six-one and she's not far shy of looking him in the eye; it seems obvious she's taking the height of both parents with her into adolescence. As if the presence of Secret Service guards alone wasn't going to intimidate the young men of Sidwell Friends Academy, finding the nerve to ask the company of this stately young woman will take some doing. The president and Mrs. Obama may have the happy duty of meeting suitors of rare character and courage as Malia's social life begins to expand into the dating world.
But on a serious note, her presence at that memorial represents something that I believe we as a nation need to think about to understand its full impact. Malia -- to borrow the cliché that we always say about children -- represents the future. And she stands at the side of her father, the first African-American president of the United States, at a memorial to one of the major driving forces in that even being possible. Chris Rock told the story that whatever else the election of Barack Obama brought, he no longer had to tell his kids "You can be anything you want to be" and mean it as some kind of second-best encouragement. A black man, Rock said, had been elected president, and black children no longer needed parents' words to tell them what they might achieve because they could see it on the news every day.
What will that represent for Malia, her sister Sasha and for other African-American members of the Class of 2015 and beyond? What does it mean to them to see a memorial dedicated to a great hero of the human race but also one particularly honored in their culture, and the presidential speech given on the occasion of that dedication be delivered by a man whose achievements he himself says owe much to Dr. King's stands and his work? Leave aside the petty race-mongering of Al Sharpton, Cornel West and such, in which the president participates little, but more than I'd like. Leave aside his insufficiency for the office and his misguided policies (I speak as someone who disagrees with them; if you don't then by all means add them to his achievements). What might a moment like this mean? I'm not writing with an answer; I don't have one and that's why I'd like to take at least a little while to reflect on that question.
It's something I'd love to see us as a nation think about, although of course we won't. We're too busy with the aforementioned petty folks and their counterparts on the right, too busy with the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor, too busy with who's tied with whom in a poll, and so on. Or if we're not, we're too busy with today's news to bother with last weekend's, too busy with what may (or may not) be happening now in front of someone's camera, too busy with where we're going to stop and notice where we are and what has happened.
Maybe someday we will realize that something happened in this moment, and we'll look back and see what it caused and what it might have meant. And I bet we'll wish we'd taken a little bit more time to think about it when it was happening to see what direction it might offer us and what paths it might open, or at the very least to take a moment and look at the wonder it provided.
But that'll be someday, and yesterday has a stubborn tendency to never get any closer than it is right now. The past is the past and if we missed something then, the past has a policy against repeats that allow us to pay better attention this time. We can learn from mistakes, and we might even fix them, but we don't get do-overs.