Perhaps we needed it, a moment remembered, a footnote about a kiss. Thank the owners of Dorchester Commons, a Chicago shopping center, for a wisp of romance. According to the Chicago Tribune, the owners this week unveiled a granite marker recording the first kiss between Barack and Michelle Obama in 1989. At that time, the couple worked in the same law firm. The Obama presidency was decades away.
What mattered that day was Baskin-Robbins ice cream at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and 53rd Street in Chicago’s Hyde Park, the scene of a first date and a kiss soon to be shared. A kiss, Obama told "O, The Oprah Magazine" in 2007, that "tasted like chocolate.” The 3,000-pound marker carries the full quote from that interview, capturing the memory as a time capsule—although a Subway has taken the place of the Baskin-Robbins.
In one way, the marker seems ill-timed. Premature. It’s not the president’s centennial. It’s not even the manufactured, sap-ridden Valentine’s Day.
Then again, the marker feels refreshing. That spot in Dorchester Commons celebrates romantic love between a married black couple, still a rare find in U.S. pop culture accustomed to its Harry-and-Sally love affairs being white.
Ultimately, the memory of the kiss this week signals a societal pause, a breeze fanning through hot August when every movement feels insufferable. The nation is going through a lot: Mass shootings, city violence in Chicago, historic drought, unrelenting unemployment, rising gas and food prices, and a presidential campaign that explodes into gloom every minute. I hear it from friends impatient with the economy, and horrified by the violence of words and weapons. I especially get an earful from people disengaged from the presidential election, like lovers scorned, because they feel disregarded by the powers that be. Two friends have gone so far as to contemplate write-in candidates.
But a kiss, or, as Robert Burns wrote, “love’s first snowdrop, virgin kiss!” puts life, political or otherwise, into perspective. If we let it, a small story about a kiss can push us back to an understanding of shared humanity. We’re not soulless aliens, and love isn’t a cliché to drop-kick on a political talk show to a snarky rendition of “Kumbaya.” Love is a gift, granting human beings the capacity to treat each other respectfully, compromise when needed, and tamp down selfish ambitions more often. Love is the eternal "note to self" reminding each of us that it's not about us.
President Obama, maybe you’ll recall that kiss at Dorchester and 53rd and remember the dreams of your younger self. People crave vision from the heart. Add that to your box of chocolates to woo voters. And Governor Romney, what about sharing more of the tender moments of your life? Vulnerability is an appealing suitor. Distance never makes the heart grow fonder; it tears love apart.
Judy Howard Ellis is a Dallas-based creative consultant for entrepreneurs and the author of “Fall of the Savior-King,” a fantasy novel inspired by the Book of Genesis. She still remembers her husband's first kiss. @JudyHowardEllis