Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012: Peace, hope, love.

The simple beauty of a Christmas tree ornament.

A Merry Christmas message for 2012:
May the spirit of Christmas bring you peace,
The gladness of Christmas give you hope,
The warmth of Christmas grant you love.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

ImagineNations: Putting a stamp on the world

ImagineNations / Spanning the globe as an artistic canvas.

On Sunday afternoon, I visited the Renegade Craft Fair's annual holiday market in search of some imagination and color to boost my own spirits after a week filled with rain at home and sadness over the senseless tragedy in Connecticut.

Strolling through the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood, I was met by more than 200 of today's best and brightest indie artists of all kinds displaying their colorful, must-see, contemporary handmade crafts.

This was their showcase.

Added to the experience, there were live DJs spinning lots of cool-sounding music on vinyl, and even a cozy spot for enjoying a bite of lunch, too.

The Renegade Craft Fair was a stylish place to be for the hipster crowd and I felt a good vibe as I went up and down the aisles searching for artsy holiday cards and other last-minute gifts ideas.

There were many indie artists who made a favorable impression on me. Among them were:
  • Nina Kulick, whose Gooseberry Press display featured paper goodies, art stamps and embellishments such as stylish city maps and organic city totes.
  • Sharon Murriguez, whose Casa Murriguez showcased handmade housewares designed and created with style and conscience.
  • Samantha Barsky, owner and designer of note*ify, whose boutique of handmade gift tags, cards and other paper products caught my eye. There, I found just the right kind of colorful holiday cards that suited my mood.
Finally, there was Wendy Gold, whose ImagineNations featured handmade globe art on vintage globes using recycled source material. On its Facebook page, ImagineNations is described as "whimsical worlds, decoupages by hand with recycled materials on vintage globes. Each work of art is a one of a kind, custom designed creation."

A decorative artist in the Bay Area since 1995, Gold and ImagineNations have been featured on CNN, in USA Today and on the pages of Travel+Leisure magazine, among many national media.

Among the many colorful Earthly orbs that Gold showed in her ImagineNations booth were globes depicting characters from Maurice Sendak's literary children's classic Where the Wild Things Are and one with a colorful banner that read "Bon Voyage". She has also created globes that highlight superheroes and butterflies. According to the ImagineNations website, artonglobes.com, prices for these original artworks range from about $350 to $600.

In an April interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Gold described what inspires her global artwork: "A globe can take you in so many directions, both literally and figuratively."

Indeed, Wendy Gold is putting her stamp on the world one globe at a time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Walking with an open heart and an open mind

Spiritual journey / Walking the indoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.

When was the last time you went for a good walk? 

If you had to think about this question for more than a few seconds, it's probably been a long time since you enjoyed a good walk. Am I right?

In our hurried lives, it's often quicker to complete our journey from A to B by car, taxi, bus or subway -- even though it may cost more money and leave a bigger carbon footprint. Sometimes, though, you just need to break away from routine, get out on foot, and walk.

Chances are good that you just might be surprised by what you see and how it makes you feel.

Recently, on a crisp, late-autumn night, my wife and I enjoyed meandering around the Union Square and SOMA (South of Market Street) districts of San Francisco -- and we zig-zagged about on foot. We ventured into "The City" via light-rail BART (leaving our car behind in Oakland) so we could admire the Christmas tree and holiday lights adorning Union Square this time of the year. Our itinerary also included stops to see the Adopt-a-Pet window display at Macy's and also to walk peacefully through Yerba Buena Gardens, where we stopped in front of the the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and waterfall.

On this night, each of our destinations in The City provided much visual beauty and spiritual enjoyment.

Another kind of walk that I believe is always worth taking, no matter the time of year, is to follow the path of a labyrinth. In colloquial English, according to Wikipedia, "labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate."

Recently, a resurgence of interest in the labyrinth symbol has inspired a revival in labyrinth building around the world. This interest has also spread from literature to movies, even video games.

I've been blessed to walk the unicursal labyrinths at Grace Cathedral several times (there is one inside the cathedral as well as outside on the cathedral plaza) as well as the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. I encourage everyone to walk a labyrinth path at least once in their lives -- even if your travels don't take you to either San Francisco or France. You may be surprised to find a labyrinth close to where you live.

The Grace Cathedral website has an entire section devoted to labyrinths. In it, it says: "The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives. It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart." The cathedral hosts a monthly candlelight labyrinth walk with music and also hosts yoga classes held on the indoor labyrinth.

Indeed, labyrinth walks are an opportunity -- a perfect time -- for you to reflect, pray, and meditate on peace. Within yourself, your community, and your world, too.

To learn more about labyrinths, read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labyrinth 

To learn more about the Grace Cathedral labyrinth, read: http://www.gracecathedral.org/visit/labyrinth/

Photograph of the Grace Cathedral indoor labyrinth by Michael Dickens, copyright 2011. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

With peace and joy fully alive in our hearts

Christmas tree at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco.

The season of Advent is upon us, and it marks the beginning of the Western Christian liturgical year. Advent is arguably the most easily recognizable season of the year. The signs of the Advent season are familiar: Christmas trees and decorations, both in homes and in public places, are in abundance in cities and townships from coast to coast in the U.S. and throughout much of the world.

It's hard to believe that Christmas Day is but three weeks from today as I write this post.

Advent commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year it began on December 2, and it's a season which is observed in many Western Christian churches across the world in preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term advent is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, which means "arrival" or "coming" -- anticipating the coming of Jesus.

This is a time of spiritual reflection and anticipation. As Advent begins, so, too, does the holiday season of music, found in both sacred hymns and carols and in secular songs.

An early feature of the celebration of the Christmas season, the rise in the importance and popularity of the carols can be attributed to the influence of Francis of Assisi. It should be noted that chants, litanies and hymns were written and sung in Latin and were used during the church liturgy, rather than popular songs. And, yet, today, whether sung in English, French, Latin or Italian -- or any other language for that matter -- these hymns ring out as beautiful sounds to our collective ears.

On the occasion of the arrival of this holiday season, my wife and I recently enjoyed a lovely evening with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra as they welcomed Pink Martini in concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The "little orchestra" from Portland, Oregon, draws its inspiration from music from all over the world -- it crosses genres of classical, jazz and classic pop -- and its repertoire includes songs sung in English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Hebrew and Arabic.

During the band's two-hour, 20-song concert, Pink Martini performed the familiar "The Little Drummer Boy", "We Three Kings" and "Auld Lang Syne" in the spirit of the holiday season as well as a couple of their own original holiday songs, "Congratulations – A Happy New Year Song" and "A Snowglobe Christmas". 

However, one holiday song which made an emotional impact with me was "La Vergine Degli Angeli", written by the Italian Romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi. The song title, which translates to "The Virgin of the Angels", was written for the opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), which had its debut in 1862. On this evening, "La Vergine Degli Angeli" was beautifully interpreted by Pink Martini vocalist China Forbes.

"La Vergine Degli Angeli" appears on Pink Martini's holiday music album 'Joy to the World' and I encourage each of you to listen for both its beautiful lyrics and passionate vocal quality.

La vergine degli angeli

La vergine degli angeli
Mi copra del suo manto
E me protegga vigile
Di dio l'angelo santo
La vergine degli angeli
E me protegga me protegga
L'angiol di dio
E me protegga
L'angiol di dio
Me protegga
E me protegga

The Virgin of the Angels

The Virgin of the Angels
Covers me with her mantle,
And protects me vigilantly
Sacred angel of God.
The Virgin of the Angels
And/She protects me, protects me,
The angel of god
And/She protects me
The angel of god protects me.
And protects me.

There are lessons we can learn during Advent. 

"During this season," says San Francisco's Grace Cathedral on its website, "we wait and hope for the arrival of a state of perfect peace and harmony. We still live in a world where violence and injustice exist and so, throughout Advent, we slow down, and endeavor to live in a way as though these problems have all been washed away. Advent is also an active sort of waiting, in that we strive to do justice and to love our neighbors with renewed vigor.  We try to seek out places where violence and iniquity exist, and step into them with peace and joy fully alive in our hearts." 

May this be a season of peace and joy for all of us -- and, may we all take part in promoting the spirit of sharing peace and joy.

To hear the entire Pink Martini 'Joy to the World' holiday music CD: http://youtu.be/RcIUz9jop5E

1. White Christmas
2. White Christmas (part II) featuring Saori Yuki
3. Shchedryk (Ukrainian Bell Carol)
4. Santa Baby
5. Elohai, N’tzor
6. Little Drummer Boy
7. Congratulations – A Happy New Year Song
8. Do You Hear What I Hear?
9. La Vergine Degli Angeli
10. We Three Kings
11. A Snowglobe Christmas
12. Ocho Kandelikas (Eight Little Candles)
13. Silent Night
14. Auld Lang Syne 

Christmas tree at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco, by Michael Dickens.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In our garden with Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul."

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1802-1883), American poet and essayist, and champion of individualism

* * *

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about  a variety of subjects, and he wrote very well. The 19th century American poet and essayist spent considerable time and effort focusing on and developing certain tenets about individuality and freedom, and about the relationship between the soul and surrounding world.

While Emerson's view about nature was more philosophical than naturalistic, I find much comfort in using his words to illustrate my photographs of our garden.

Below are a few of Emerson's word pictures that I've found joy in discovering and sharing. The themes of friendship, giving thanks and integrity are universal and go beyond borders.

Cheers, love and peace my dear readers.

* * *

"The glory of friendship is not in the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is in the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him."

* * *

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

* * *

"Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind."

Photograph of Pristine rose by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant poster art
 depicts Beaujolais Nouveau harvest.

Every year, I look forward to the third Thursday in November.

It's Beaujolais de Vendange, or Harvest Beaujolais. 

"Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!" 

On November 15, this year's Beaujolais Nouveau was released across the world. On Saturday night, my wife and I enjoyed a glass of the 2012 ultra-natural Beaujolais Nouveau, purchased earlier in the day at Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley, California, with our home-cooked dinner of risotto with pesto and peas.

It was serious fun, but it made our meal most enjoyable.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It's a young wine (usually only six to eight weeks old) that not only is fruity, but also light-bodied and virtually tannin-free. It is an easy-to-drink wine that is popular with Thanksgiving meals, but could just as easily be enjoyed with pizza, too. While it may be ridiculed by some wine critics, it's beloved by the masses. 
2012 Beaujolais Nouveau

Each year, Beaujolais Nouveau is released starting at a second past midnight on the third Thursday in November (and no date earlier, as per French law) that has become custom and tradition, as some 65 million bottles are trekked to Paris for distribution throughout the world in any means reasonable ~ from jets to elephant runners.

This year's Harvest Beaujolais enjoyed its world-wide debut last Thursday. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, each year, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant always receives its shipment of the Beaujolais Nouveau from France in time to sell it on the date of its official release for about $18 per bottle.

"Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!"

Indeed, and as American wine importer Kermit Lynch proclaimed in his newsletter promoting Beaujolais Nouveau 2012: "Undeniably the most thirst-quenching day of the year!"

Poster art image courtesy of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, 2012.
Photo image of 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau courtesy of Grapelive.com.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Clothes with value that suit your values, too

Elements of Style: Uniqlo /
Making clothes that transcend all categories and social groups.

Uniqlo is the elements of style.
Uniqlo is a toolbox for living.
Uniqlo is clothes that suit your values.
Uniqlo is how the future dresses.
Uniqlo is beauty in hyperpracticality.
Uniqlo is clothing in the absolute.
Uniqlo is made for all.

Can clothing change the world? Uniqlo, the Japanese brand that has been taking San Francisco by storm, not only believes it can. It already is doing it. 

Uniqlo's brand philosophy is simple: It doesn't matter who you are or where you live. "Uniqlo makes clothes that transcend all categories and social groups," says the global clothing retailer on its website. "Our clothes are made for all, going beyond age, gender, occupation, ethnicity, and all other ways that define people. Our clothes are simple and essential yet universal, so people can freely combine them in their own unique way."

Novak Djokovic /
Serbian world-class tennis player,
who has partnered with Uniqlo.
In May, Uniqlo made a big splash in the sporting world when it signed Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked men's tennis player in the world, to a five-year apparel contract. Djokovic debuted his new Uniqlo red, white and blue kit at the French Open in Paris. On Monday, when he won the ATP World Tour championship in London, Djokovic sported a brand new black kit that made its debut during the tournament. During his post-match news conference, he wore a jazzy, red ultra-light down vest jacket.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I experienced Uniqlo for the first time when I visited the brand's newly-opened West Coast flagship Uniqlo Store located just off Union Square in downtown San Francisco. Upon entering the 29,000 square-foot, three-story clothing emporium (located at 111 Powell Street in the former DSW store), the colorfully-lit and vibrant atmosphere made an immediate impact upon me. So did the 91 rotating mannequins showing off Uniqlo's latest apparel, such as ultra-light down jackets in a variety of colors, as well as the 77 LCD screens that lined the perimeter of the store and seven large-screen wall monitors showing off the company's marketing campaigns.

"When people first walk in, we want to shock them with the colors and the variety," Yasunobu Kyogoku, Uniqlo's chief operating officer for the United States, told the San Francisco Business Times on the eve of the San Francisco Uniqlo's October 5 grand opening.

Uniqlo's brand logo.
Uniqlo likes to think big and the company is driven by innovation. In just 10 years, half of Japan's population is relying on Uniqlo's Heattech technology to make dressing in winter "as fun and flexible as in any other season." In fact, 80 percent of the population of Japan live within 20 minutes of a Uniqlo store, the first which opened in 1984 in Hiroshima. There are 847 Uniqlo locations in Japan alone. I appreciate that Uniqlo has an eye toward social responsibility, too, by recycling millions of pieces of clothing for the needy, supporting small businesses through microcredit and working to restore Japan's Seto Inland Sea. They're a business with a soul.

Worldwide, Uniqlo has 1,132 stores in 13 markets, including: Tokyo, Bangkok, Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Moscow, Paris, London and New York City. Here in San Francisco, Uniqlo's high-quality, affordable fashion merchandise will compete with nearby H & M and Gap for the young, hipster urbanite retail dollar in the upcoming holiday shopping season.

I had a blast visiting Uniqlo, and the store's modern and hip design, filled with bright lights, technological gadgetry and pulsating music, gave off a cool vibe that reminded me of being inside a discotheque. It definitely put me in a mood for shopping and, impulsively, I bought a stylish but affordable ($19.90), zip-up navy blue fleece jacket that was on sale and can be worn in San Francisco's moderate climate almost year-round. Added up, the phenomenon that is Uniqlo, from the colorful displays to the courteous and eager customer service to the idea of a company that wants to make our lives better through clothing, made shopping fun, again.

Indeed, clothing can change the world.

Photograph inside San Francisco Uniqlo store by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012.
Photograph of Novak Djokovic courtesy of Getty Images and ATP World Tour Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four more years: Finishing what Obama started

Four more years / A chance to finish what he started.

Love, charity, duty and patriotism is what makes America great, said President Barack Obama in the early hours of Wednesday morning in delivering his victory speech at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois. 

Across America, in both small towns and large urban cities, citizens exercised their civic duty to vote, sometimes having to endure long lines and long waits. Importantly, they voted and they followed their conscience in marking their ballot choices. More than 119 million Americans voted in the 2012 Presidential election on Tuesday. In the final outcome, Obama won re-election for a second term as 44th President of the United States by garnering both the popular vote, with more than 60 million votes, as well as the Constitutionally-mandated electoral vote 303-206.

It was after 11 p.m. in the eastern U.S. (8 p.m. out west), when the state of Ohio, which was considered by most political pundits as the ultimate battleground state, was declared for President Obama. Its 18 electoral votes easily pushed him over the threshold of the 270 necessary to win re-election as President of the United States.

Barack Obama /
"We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions."

About 1:40 a.m. eastern time, following a gracious concession speech by the defeated Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, President Obama walked out on stage to loud, thunderous applause and cheers from well wishers, and he addressed his supporters and the nation who re-elected him. The messenger delivered a great message.

"Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come," said President Obama.

"We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America."

Obama's Night /
Wednesday's front page of The New York Times.

Text of President Obama's victory speech:

Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward. (Cheers, applause.)

It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family, and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people. (Cheers, applause.)

Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.
(Cheers, applause.) 

I want to thank every American who participated in this election. (Cheers, applause.) Whether you voted for the very first time -- (cheers) -- or waited in line for a very long time -- (cheers) -- by the way, we have to fix that. (Cheers, applause.) Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone -- (cheers, applause) -- whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference. (Cheers, applause.)
I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. (Cheers, applause.) We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service. And that is a legacy that we honor and applaud tonight. (Cheers, applause.) In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward. (Cheers, applause.)
I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden. (Cheers, applause.)
And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. (Cheers, applause.) Let me say this publicly. Michelle, I have never loved you more. (Cheers, applause.) I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you too as our nation’s first lady. (Cheers, applause.)
Sasha and Malia -- (cheers, applause) -- before our very eyes, you’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom. (Cheers, applause.) And I am so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now, one dog’s probably enough. (Laughter.)
To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics -- (cheers, applause) -- the best -- the best ever -- (cheers, applause) -- some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning. (Cheers, applause.)
But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together. (Cheers, applause.) And you will have the lifelong appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way -- (cheers, applause) -- to every hill, to every valley. (Cheers, applause.) You lifted me up the whole day, and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you’ve put in. (Cheers, applause.)
I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics who tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym or -- or saw folks working late at a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.
You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. (Cheers, applause.) You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. (Cheers, applause.)
You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home. (Cheers, applause.)
That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight. And it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter -- (cheers, applause) -- the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.
But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future.
We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers -- (cheers, applause) -- a country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation -- (scattered cheers, applause) -- with all of the good jobs and new businesses that follow.
We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. (Cheers, applause.)
We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this -- this world has ever known -- (cheers, applause) -- but also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.
We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag -- (cheers, applause) -- to the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner -- (cheers, applause) -- to the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president.
That’s the -- (cheers, applause) -- that’s the future we hope for.
(Cheers, applause.) That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go -- forward. (Cheers, applause.) That’s where we need to go. (Cheers, applause.)
Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, resolve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.
But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. (Cheers, applause.) A long campaign is now over. (Cheers, applause.) And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you. And you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead. (Cheers, applause.)
Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. (Cheers, applause.) You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours.
And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together -- reducing our deficit, reforming out tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do. (Cheers, applause.)
But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us; it’s about what can be done by us together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self- government. (Cheers, applause.) That’s the principle we were founded on.
This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores. What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared -- (cheers, applause) -- that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, so that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great. (Cheers, applause.)
I am hopeful tonight because I have seen this spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job. I’ve seen it in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back. (Cheers, applause.) I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm. (Cheers, applause.)
And I saw it just the other day in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care. (Cheers, applause.) I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd, listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes because we knew that little girl could be our own.
And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president. (Cheers, applause.)
And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. (Cheers, applause.) I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope.
I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the road blocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting. (Cheers, applause.)
America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunities and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founding, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or who you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. (Cheers, applause.) You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try. (Cheers, applause.)
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. (Sustained cheers, applause.)
I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America. (Cheers, applause.)
And together, with your help and God’s grace, we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on earth. (Cheers, applause.) Thank you, America. (Cheers, applause.) God bless you. God bless these United States. (Cheers, applause.)

Photographic images courtesy of Barack Obama 2012 and the New York Times.