At exactly 8:29 p.m. on Nov. 6 — Election Night — an email alert popped up on my computer screen.
It had a one-word subject line: "America."
Around me, reporters were eating catered chicken tacos and buzzing about exit interviews they had conducted earlier around the city. It was the calm before the storm.
I clicked on the email, which I later discovered had been sent to me by a 15-year-old boy, Christian Hurd. Earlier in the day, Christian had waited in a parked car while his mother voted for the first time.
"When we parked at the voting station today, an elderly couple walked outside, hugged each other and then walked to their car holding hands. They were admiring the trees, the flowers and the beautiful sky we had today.
"They were noticing all the little things in life that we usually look over. They were so happy. Watching them, I couldn't help but think about all they've been through and what's happened in America during their lifetimes.
"They've been here for the good times; they've toughed out recession. They have seen a president's life taken and cried over lost brothers in Vietnam. They saw the first man land on the moon and worked those endless hours so their children could have a better life.
"They watched a nation come together after those towers fell in New York. I'll bet it wasn't always easy, but they made it. And after all that, they never gave up on America.
"That's why they were there voting today. Just looking at how they smiled at each other, you knew they were in love. But you could tell they were also in love with their country.
"As they were walking out, Mom and my 3-year-old brother, Abraham, were walking inside to vote. After they passed the older couple, Abraham turned around with the biggest smile on his face.
"I couldn't help but cry. I had never been that happy. That's what this is all about for me. We don't realize how lucky we are to live in a country where we don't have to live in fear of if our next meal will ever come or if someone's going to be there to pick us up when we fall. Centuries ago, free elections like we had today were only a dream.
"Yeah, we get a lot of things wrong, but I love my America, and there's no other place I'd rather live my life."
If any of you feel cynical, or let down, or inclined to gloat about the election of 2012, do as you please.
But think about this. Think about how a 15-year-old boy, a linebacker on the football team at Northwest Whitfield High School in North Georgia, wept in his mom's car on Election Day simply because he was full of love for his America.
And it wasn't because his favorite candidate won -- or lost -- but because he saw a vision of his country's greatness reflected in the past -- the hugs of a senior couple -- and the future -- the smile of his little brother.
I tracked Christian down a few days later and asked him what he wants to do after college.
Public service, he said, maybe even politics.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...