January 20th, 2009 Inauguration, Washington, DC
It was a day of great contrasts. Winter in Washington can be bitter and raw. This was one of those days. Yet there was warmth of heart that ignored freezing toes, noses, ears and fingers. The number of people in attendance was amazing. Yet each of us was an individual witness. It was historic yet in noteworthy way it was an ordinary day; extra-ordinary and ordinary in the same moment.
The day before, my Susan, our daughter Caite and I were at the recently reopened Museum of American History. We were there to see the Ft Henry Flag and the Ipswich House. Those were both interesting. Do know which states were the 14 and 15th States admitted into the Union. The flag had 15 Stars during the War of 1812. (Ok I knew Vermont was one of them, but I guessed several others before finally coming up with Kentucky).
We spend a significant amount of time in the Lincoln exhibit. It was striking how human he was. We saw the hat he wore when he was killed. Our 16th President was amazing. He was tortured by the effort to keep the union together. The emancipation proclamation might not have ever been issued. He needed a victory in the War. Thank God that Antietam gave him the divine sign he sought. It was powerful to watch the people studying the exhibit and the document.
Before we left we stopped at a strange exhibit. It was a Woolworth’s coffee counter..
The same kind that we remember at Newport Creamery. Four swivel seats. They looked ordinary, unremarkable. But these were ‘white’s only’ seats. Four young Africa Americans sat in these seats waiting to be served as a protest. They held vigil, (less than fifty years ago), for 6 months before they were finally served. It is embarrassing that this was our country such a short time ago.
These two exhibits were the perfect preface to the inauguration of the first African America President: Barack Obama. We arrived at the security lines on Tuesday at 8:30 and waited in lines until about 10:30 to take our seats. Security was present everywhere, but we all felt safe. The process was polite, but not efficient. (Keep thinking they should hire Disney every four years to make it ‘visitor friendly’ and quick). This day there were very few complaints. We had a seat at a watershed event in the history of our nation and our people. Strictly on the surface, it was note worthy. The President of the United States, for the first time, is an African American. Racial shackles that precluded opportunity have been unlocked and discarded, forever. The Dream of American Opportunity, that any one could one day be President, was realized. You could not help but think the Martin Luther Kings, a American Martyr, was smiling in heaven. He had poured his last measure of life into this cause and into us. Now the ultimate symbol of achievement had been earned by an African American.
But then when you overlay, the gift of this person Barack Obama, it was almost surreal. It was overwhelming This was a man, a high educated thinker, who embraced discourse and science over belief. He understood the brilliance of founding fathers vision.
Everyone in the crowd was excited about the change. When President Bush and Mrs. Bush were introduced a wave of boos and jeers emanated from the rear by the Washington Monument, and like a wave moved forward. It was awkward.
The formal program was beautiful and spiritual. From Aretha Franklin’s singing of the national anthem to the benediction, it was inspiring. The speech will be discussed for decades and has been etched into the American psyche. Barack reminded us that we are American, not just Democrats or Republicans. Christians, Jews. Muslims… Non believers. What was most powerful to me, was the line: “we have chosen hope over fear.” This is particularly meaningful for us here in Rhode Island. Remember: we are the 13th State and our motto is hope. Maybe the confidence of our new President can empower and encourage us to make our State a lighthouse in these perilous times. Just a thought.