It isn't very often that we get to stop and take notice of an historical shift. There are so few guide posts and mile markers that are noticeable in the moment that read: "The World Is Different Now!" or "We've Made Progress". Too often we miss the shift or we mark the low points because they are so low they bring all us collectively to our knees - such as September 11th. But I want to personally mark yesterday as a day that collectively brought tears of joy to the eyes of our nation and what that means to me. I want to be able to tell my children that while I am not black, nor am I an ethnic minority, I rejoiced with those who are for the progress that has in fact taken place in our nation that has such a sad history of oppression and hatred. Is racism dead? Is hate banished? Will a black president bring an end to ignorant comments and bigoted bias? No. But this is marked progress.
Yesterday I arrived home from a red-eye flight and a too long cab ride at 9 am. I planned to rest for a couple of hours before tuning into the inauguration at 11 am but the headache that had been plauging me for two days forced me to sleep until after 1 pm. When I finally roused myself, with a still heavy head, I hit play on my DVR to see how things were changing in my world. The millions who had gathered in my nation's capitol touched me. It was a cold but bright and sunny day and from all the reports people were of good cheer. What touched me the most were the stories of intergenerational discussions of how things used to be and why this day was so important to those who all too clearly remember not being deemed full citizens of our country.
I was struck by so many things that I know I cannot capture in words but I will try because no matter how this presidency proceeds (and I am optimistic), I want to remember how I felt on January 20, 2009 when the first black man was sworn into the office of the President of the United States. What appealed to me from the beginning is his ability to bring opposites together and yesterday's ceremony was another example. The invocation and benediction were given by two men who were on very different ends of the political spectrum. But both invoked God to be with our nation and with this presidency.
The musical number was the perfect prelude to the oath of office and President Obama's address. Because I received an email from my dad praising the music, I had a bit of a preview since he asked "How many of you recognized the John Williams arrangement for Yo Yo Ma, etc. as being from the 7th movement of Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copeland? I would love to get my hands on that arrangement. It was breathtaking . . . " And he was right. It was incredible to hear Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill performing such a beautiful piece in such a breathtaking setting. And despite the bleak, winter cold I thought it was a beautiful scene. Yo Yo Ma's face in particular struck me as he played as he seemed to be enjoying himself and soaking in the words of the old hymn which (partially) danced into my head from nowhere:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
-Elder Joseph Brackett, 1848
I smiled during the exchange between Justice Roberts and President Obama over the misstated words for the oath of office. How human and what a gentle reminder that even justices of the Supreme Court mis-speak at times.
Then our President spoke to us for the first time as president. It was not his greatest speech. But it was beautiful and appropriate for the day and for this time in history when our country is in such financial turmoil. But the single phrase that struck me - as I know it has struck so many others - was "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." What an incredibly powerful and enduring image that is.
I was also moved by the US Navy Band "Sea Chanters" rendition of the National Anthem and the images of our new president singing along with his wife. The poem by Elizabeth Alexander was not my favorite. There were bits and pieces I liked but I did not care for her delivery so I had a difficult time judging the actual poem.
And on a more superficial level, I will admit I was anxious to see what Michelle Obama would be wearing. And I thought her yellow coat dress was beautiful and appropriate. I love that their daughters were wearing colorful J. Crew ensembles. I also liked her evening gown although between the two I preferred the bright yellow day dress. I just think she wears bright colors well.
There are more thoughts and ideas and reactions and feelings all jumbled around in my head and in my heart about the new era we are stepping into today. Sure, nothing looks or sounds or acts differently in my world than it did yesterday. My walk to work was the same. My job is the same. People are all essentially the same. But somehow, I think we are different - regardless of the political ramifications - just by hitting the mile stone of having a black man as president. As someone commented on CNN at some point in the last 24 hours of media overload I was watching (and I am paraphrasing) - it is something for kids who once wore Jay-Z t-shirts to be clamoring for t-shirts with the image of Barack Obama. A new role model. Isn't that something?