Obama When No One Is Watching—from 2009


Malia Obama probably wasn’t sure if her Dad would make it home from work to watch her soccer game this past Friday night.

He’s been pretty busy lately. But her Mom and her little sister would be there.

The flow of the kids moving the ball down the field, under the lights of a chilly night in October. The families chatting on the sidelines. The starlight glow of downtown Chicago rising up from the north.

Malia Obama at mid field shouts “Mom!” And the smile, grace, and presence of the woman whose eyes never once leave her daughter—no matter who else she speaks to, waves back and sends a radiant smile.

In that one wave and smile, you see hope come alive before your very eyes.

Then just a few minutes after eight; something like a shift in earth’s gravity occurs. To the casual observer, nothing in this scene has changed. That pull of the earth’s power must have been imagined.

The true city dweller will feel it first, before they even see it.

Blink your eyes and they appear. Ringing the shadows of this soccer field are people with guns. Serious people with guns. Like oak trees that move. The phrase, “Not on my watch” flashes through your head.

You have to look hard to make sure they are even there.

You never really see a gun.

You’re not even sure they are moving: but when you blink your eyes, somehow their positions have changed. Something about the way they just appear calms your breathing. Instinctively you know: these are the good guys.

With that feeling of true safety in your very soul; you remember the real secret at the heart of the city:— that the city is just a million small town kids soccer game scenes strung together.

So the kids laugh and kick the soccer ball.

Then some guy in a blue cap walks out of the gym next door. Hands in his pocket, face down, by himself. He walks over to Malia’s Mom, who has 3 conversations going on simultaneously with folks on the sidelines. The quiet guy in the blue cap puts his arm around Malia’s Mom. Shakes hands with a couple of the people. Talks with Malia’s Mom for a minute or two.

Then a small miracle occurs.

The quiet guy in the blue cap who nobody in the crowd of families really paid all that much attention two; scrunches down so he his face to face with Malia’s little sister Sasha. He lifts up the brim on the cap. And then, standing 15 feet behind Sasha you see what she’s seeing up close.

You see that smile. That smile that rings with the very power and the glory of the city lights behind it.

That smile now almost ready to take its place in American history.

You can’t hear, and are happy not to hear, what he’s saying to his youngest daughter.

But you do hear her start to giggle.

Then the father takes the daughter’s hand. The younger daughter. The one who is not in the game. The one who by all rights and purposes and measures any of us know at this time in our history—was destined not to get a lot of attention tonight.

They move back in the shadows, behind the sideline crowd. Seen only by that quiet show of force here to keep them absolutely safe.

Then the miracle: they have a footrace.

While the game is still going on. Just the two of them. Sasha and her Dad take off together, both running at full speed, as fast and then faster then either of them could ever imagine. Sasha laughing, and laughing at the finish line. Her Dad swoops down and picks her up.

Then that smile. This time only for his daughter. No one else was looking. It was just for her.

His youngest daughter’s giggle. It’s the music of his promise to make sure that everyone’s included

And This past Friday night in Chicago: Malia Obama’s team won the game.

From “Finding Work When There Are No Jobs” Copyright Think Different Press. Chicago, IL. Reprinted with permission of the author.

12 Responses to “Obama When No One Is Watching—from 2009”

  1. paulhaider1974 Says:

    I can still remember enjoying this piece when I read it for the first time in 2009. It’s going to be tough without the Obamas in the White House, and I dread where the country is going with T’Rump/The Ass in command. There was a time when a president could bring out the best in America, but this will end after ten days from now. Let’s hope that the Dems have a candidate as good as Barack Obama again by 2020.

  2. JC Says:

    This was the perfect time for me to read this – after seeing his farewell speech. Really good job, CG.

  3. hcgagel Says:

    Ah, the memories.

    Helen Gagel



  4. Naomi de Plume Says:

    I love this. All three times I’ve read it.

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      Thanks Naomi–I really wanted to get beyond the politics and get to the hope and care for those who need the care the most. It feels like this one holds up cause this is almost 10 years old!

  5. pastorcarol22 Says:

    Loved this then….love it now! Then, it made me happy. Now…(sigh)…I hope it can keep me strong.

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      Pastor Carol–there will be more. I’m so grateful for being able to put this one out there again cause I had the same hope you did.

  6. boomerbob Says:

    Amazing! Amazing that, in a time when families are everywhere, but here. Here where families like the Obamas remember what family is about. Where the unseen threads of love seem to connect them like a connect the dots drawing.

    Long after the drawing is completed the dots stay connected forever.

    Virtually ever time I see this family together, I remember a specific summer night in a very small town in Oklahoma as a kid. On this particular summer night in the early 1960s, a huge mass of these interconnected dots gathered in a Park in El Reno, Oklahoma. Dots that have moved around substantially to change the perspective of the drawing. Yet; they somehow stay connected.

    150+ of similar dots generated by only two the originals who had a few years earlier faded from the picture’s view, sat around concrete tables covered by permanent wooden, rectangular gazebos playing a card game we all called then “slap-jack”.

    A loud game, whose volume fluctuated from loud to a raucous roar as the dots laughed in unison to the point many had tears of laughter running down their cheeks as hands ached from being purposely smashed onto the concrete in a race to slap that jack.

    I’ve come to miss that gathering of dots over the years, but the memory of the picture those dots created is as vivid today as it was the moment it was created.

    it’s a very rare picture anymore, but somehow captured again by the Obamas.

    The interesting this is, their family of dots will be sorely missed by everyone of my family dots across the country.

    There must be a fascinating story somewhere in an entire nation of dotted pictures and how they all seem to have a common line with the picture in your story.

  7. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Bob–I bet you could find and write that story! I for one would like to read it if you do.

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