The Recent Inauguration
When we look back at what was going on during our times and when our families look back at who we were and when we lived, there were historical events occurring, of course, as there always are. When I look back at my Grandmother’s life, I think about the Great Depression, or at my Mother’s and think of World War II. During my lifetime, there has been the VietNam War. Another event that will be viewed in a historical context id the Inauguration of the first African American president. Here is a story about being in Washington for that event and what happened on a personal level that day.
We left the condo building at about 7:45 a.m. Of course, Craig had seen on the news that hundreds of thousands of people were already there. We were all bundled up in our warm clothes. He had his new gloves on. Before we took off, I called my brother Jim in Wisconsin. It was an hour earlier there of course, 6:30 a.m. His alarm goes off at 7 so he was still asleep. He told me later, he has his ring tones programmed. My ring tone is the Star Spangled Banner. So he awoke to the Star Spangled Banner, opened his eyes and focused and thought to himself, “well, there is my sister, the Star Spangled Banner on Inauguration Day of the first African American President, now there´s a start to the day.”
The day before Craig had said we needed to decide between the parade and the inauguration because we couldn´t do both. Hands down, it was the inauguration.
I felt rested and ready for whatever was going to happen. I held no expectations. I only hoped to be able to be close enough to a speaker somewhere so that I could hear the swearing in and the inaugural address. I love great speeches.
We walked down to the metro underground train station and hundreds of people were there and they were letting people down onto the platform in waves. We got down to the platform about a half hour later and four filled trains came and went. I didn´t see how you could jam one more person into those cars. I was starting to give up. But then a train came by and the doors opened and suddenly Craig hopped on, then he pulled me by the coat and I hopped on. We were on the train!
A young man with two small children and a wife then decided to be a linebacker, put his head down and rammed Craig and the very large African American standing next to Craig. They pushed the man away, “you can´t do that!” The fellow tried it one more time but then the doors closed and we were moving away from the platform. People had been warned not to bring small children or people over 70 years of age. There was a sea of hundreds of people in the station and a knee-height child could be easily crushed or get lost in such a crowd.
We stopped briefly in a tunnel and then moved on past two stations before the train halted and we got out. Really, it was a very short ride on the train. This station was even more packed, wall to wall people. One man started shouting “O-ba-MA!” And the crowd replied, “O-ba-MA!”
Slowly the crowd was inching toward the escalators. Two officers parted the people to allow a wheelchair through. What a journey it was going to be for a person in a wheelchair.
Craig assisted an old black woman up the escalator. It didn´t seem like she was with anyone, but she wore a smile on her face that told the whole story of why she was there.
We inched our way down the street with the thousands of others. People were patient, they were moving, slowly moving. We turned, we found an opening, we went through some bushes, walked another block and suddenly it seemed, there we were, right on the mall in front of a jumbotron! It was more than I had hoped for! They were just starting to seat people up at the Capitol, where we could see the flags draped, way in the distance. We were several hundred thousand people ahead of the Washington Monument and there were several hundred thousand people ahead of us going up towards the Capitol.
They handed out flags. We waved them. The television boom shot down over our heads, everyone in our section waved to the camera. I had one moment when I looked around and was overcome with, I won´t call it a panic attack, but just a momentary pause of realization that this was unlike anything I had ever done or would ever do. Fortunately I had some cheese in my pocket and Craig and I shared cheese and granola bars and the moment quickly passed.
On the jumbotron we could see the dignitaries filing onto the staging area. The people around us were waiting patiently in groups of two or three or four. There was space between us. People were dressed in warm clothes, but it was still cold. I guess it was about 20 degrees. After about an hour or two, I can´t remember, my toes began to hurt from the cold and Craig leaned down to line his shoes with paper because the bottoms of his feet were hurting from the cold. I held off on that but some time later, I was sorry not to have done it too! Everyone was patient and in a good humor. There were no vendors or food stands about, just the thousands of porta potties. Some people had signs but didn´t hold them up so people behind them could see.
Then the moment approached and everyone surged forward. When George Bush came down the stairs, some people booed. When the helicopter taking him away flew over the crowd shortly after that, some people sang, “na na na na, hey, hey, hey, good-bye.”
More dignitaries came down the stairs. There was Ted Kennedy in his sky blue scarf looking old and happy. There were Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Everyone around us was patient and calm. Periodically, the camera would boom across the crowd and we would wave. All we could see was the small box zooming over us, suspended on a long metal arm coming out from a media tower but we didn´t see ourselves on any screen. The jumbotrons were focused directly on the podium and what was happening at the Capitol. We could see the three great American flags hanging down by the pillars. They looked so huge up close the other day, but now they were specks in the distance.
Then the moment arrived. The Reverend stepped up to say the prayer. I, for one, nearly held my breath, hoping he wouldn´t ruin these perfect moments. But soon the Lord´s Prayer was over and he moved away. Joe Biden stepped up and took the oath of office. The crowd erupted in cheers and everyone surged forward again. Then Barack Obama and Michelle and the two little girls in their candy-colored outfits were there before us on the big screen. There was some stumbling over the oath. Craig said something to me. But then the rest of the oath seemed OK.
Everyone cheered. Flags waved. People hugged each other and it felt like a spirit of lifting up. Then our new President spoke. He was eloquent, of course. I felt touched, I felt hopeful and I felt surrounded by the hope of hundreds of thousands all around me. The words spoke of a future and there was also a deep sense of abiding in this moment when, for these seconds, we could all see this future together as one. Not an easy future, but a future together as one world.
When he finished, the crowd erupted again, flags waved, gloved and mittened hands clapped. People jumped up and down in joy and cheered the new President.
Then it felt like time to go home.
Craig and I made our way past the Jefferson Memorial and walked on the closed down, empty freeway crossing the bridge over the icy Potomac where a blast of frigid air accompanied us all the way. It reminded me of the words from Obama´s Inaugural Address about the winter winds that were blowing over this river when George Washington and his troops were there and the winter we are facing in this national crisis. But we soon came to the other side, as we all will together, and were on our way to lunch and watching the parade and Balls on TV in the comfort of Craig´s living room.