Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama

We stood for 5 hours in temperatures that with wind chills plummeted to 7 degrees, yet we were warmed literally by the proximity of so many other like-minded bodies (and our hand and foot warmers) who had turned out for The inauguration. It is and probably will be the inauguration of my lifetime.

Although I came of political age during the John F. Kennedy election cycle, I was too young (not yet the required 21 at that time) to vote. A southerner, in college I was a meek boycotter of racially segregated movies, but it was a big step for me. Later, as I gained confidence, I committed myself to racial justice and joined a group combatting housing segregation in the Washington suburbs through picketing and sit ins.

During 2008, I started out a Hillary supporter, but Obama not only won my vote (which was never in doubt) but my heart and mind as well. I am ready to do my part and to follow this wise leader.

What touched me at the inauguration was the variety of people who were attending. Sure there were lots of African Americans and lots of white folks and college aged youth. But I was most affected by efforts made by ancient AFrican American women in wheelchairs and the middle aged white ladies using their walkers to get around the inhospitable cold ground of the National Mall. I was thrilled by the middle schoolers from Santa Barbara who asked to interview me for their video website and blog: What do you think Change means, they asked.

I enjoyed the folks we met on the crowded metro lines from North Carolina, Savannah, Ga., Texas, Chesapeake, Va., Los Angeles, and Ohio who were elated, tired, cold and energized just like we were -- all at the same time. They all felt like me -- they had to come.

Earlier in the weekend, my daughter Margaret and I had visited a new exhibit on Abraham Lincoln's life in commemoration of his 200th birthday. It opened last week at the National Museum of AMerican History. Only a few blocks away near Chinatown, the National Museum of Art and the National Portrait Gallery hosted two more exhibits on Lincoln -- one of photographs taken, including the final one before his assasination, and the two life masks -- one created just before he took office and one just before his death. The toll that the Civil War took on him is etched into his face. I thought about Lincoln all weekend as another Illinoian prepared to take the oath of office. How far we have come since Lincoln gave his all to save the union -- and what new challenges have arisen since that time -- just as the new man takes office.

Obama's faith in the people -- sometimes erroneously dismissed as rhetoric -- is returned by the faith that people have in him. Here is a man who can ask - yes, even demand - our sacrifices. He reminds us that he is not perfect, that he will make mistakes, but that change is occurring and that he needs us all to participate.

I'm betting we will be ready to follow. It won't be easy and we may question him -- especially if he wants to cut our favorite program -- or not take up the cause I deem most important. Just so, the public and polticiians questioned Lincoln. Lincoln and Obama have at least one trait very much in common -- they have a focused calmness that inspires others' confidence.

As I looked around at the crowd yesterday, those standing close to me and those at a distance, and I heard the strains of "American the beautiful . . . God spread thy grace on thee..." I felt a lump in my throat and a tear, albeit icy, in my eye.

FOr this scene before me represents America . . . this mass of people wrapped in wintry wool, who have given up at least their immediate comfort and warmth to witness this moment. Why ? Because all one million of us know that this is an important time for us individually and for our country.
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