We were there!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
We were there!
We routed our trip back from the Philippines through D.C. on purpose, to try to catch some of the inauguration festivities, and we could feel the buzz as far away as San Francisco, where someone had left this giant set of foam fingers on the paper towel dispenser in an airport ladies' room:
In the airport in D.C. there was a palpable vibration of excitement in the air. People were festive and friendly, as if unable to contain the good will and hope inspired by the upcoming historic event.
When we got up this morning, though, reports of nine-degree wind chill and commuting difficulties were a little discouraging. Nor did the thought of 5000 porto-potties for 2-3 million people make me feel too enthusiastic...What did people do back in medieval or Tudor times? Carry chamber pots around?!
We decided to venture out anyway and take our chances. We boarded the Metro a little after 9 a.m. - a much later start than that of the folks who braved the 4 a.m. opening time. The cars were packed so tightly we didn't think we'd be able to exit where we wanted to, but at Foggy Bottom people graciously moved around to let us off the train.
Our excitement mounted as we descended 23rd Street toward the Lincoln Memorial. Once we got there cheerful greeters wished us a "Happy Inauguration" and solicited "high fives" from those of us arriving.
The mall looked beautiful in the morning sun.
We walked toward the Jumbotrons near the Washington Monument and found a spot to sit within the World War II Memorial which provided warmth from the sun and surprisingly effective shelter from the wind.
How the crowds cheered every time one of the Obamas appeared on the screen. How breath-taking was John Williams' Air and arrangement of Simple Gifts played by four world-class musicians (Perlman, Ma, McGill, & Montero) representing the many faces of America. And how compelling it was to hear our new president call this country to unite, uphold our integrity and values even as we defend our safety, and stand strong in the face of hardship.
The joy of the people was visible on every street corner. Exuberance on every face. Even for those who made a different choice on election day there is something immeasurably important and earth-shattering to celebrate on this day. Everyone, regardless of ideology, should be able to rejoice in the historic significance and triumph of this proof that we at last have been able, in some measure, to move beyond the stupidities of a racist past. This is a great and momentous day for all, not just for democrats.
I thought of the sour grapes of those who have in the past criticized our president's tremendous popularity with the people, his eloquence and ability to articulate his vision (as one conservative pundit even admitted, he has a "writer's" mind). I wonder why those same cynics and naysayers don't reflect instead on the reasons behind this man's unmistakeable magnetism rather than resenting or envying it; could it be that he's right - that hope (hope meaning forward-looking vision, not mere optimism) is a much more productive and powerful force than fear; that integrity, competence, focus, real presence, and wise restraint are much more charismatic and in-keeping with people's dreams for their leaders, their country, and themselves?
At last, a class act.
At last, some intelligence, courage, dignity, and honor in the highest position in the land.
At last, some discipline and organization of thinking and procedure.
At last, someone with the sense and vision to welcome good ideas from anyone regardless of ideology, to encourage opponents to unclench their fists, and to see that labels like "big government," "small government" "left," and "right" are too narrow to allow for the full realization of our potential as a people.
At last, a figure who will regain international respect and demand of Americans and non-Americans the very best they can give, a high standard of integrity and hard work that he expects himself to match.
At last, the model of a healthy marriage and family in the White House.
At last, an African American takes the oath of office looking out over what used to be a slave market: we have finally grown up just a little more.
At last, a true leader who is able to win admiration and respect around the world and the love of his own people - even those who do not share all of his views - and who inspires - truly inspires - people of all ages and from all walks of life to move, to be engaged, to be fueled by hope, and to work toward transformation.