Wednesday, January 21, 2009


My impressions of the Inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States

INAUGURAL TRADITION. It’s a long-standing tradition for me to take in Presidential Inaugurations. I’ve never attended one in person (should’ve been at this one!), but I’ve not missed viewing the proceedings on TV and reading all I can about them since Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration in 1976 (the first Presidential Election I was eligible to vote in and the first President I voted for). Watching George W. Bush's Inauguration in 2000 inspired me to write him letters frequently.

DOWN BUT INSPIRED. This year, I hadn’t planned to watch it all, but a head/throat/chest crud kept me at home and I took in most of the events on CNN and C-SPAN through the fog of antihistamines while on the couch. But no crud could keep me down at moments during the proceedings. I sang (hoarsely), stood, prayed, and wept with the throng on the National Mall, as if I were there. I drew inspiration and encouragement from the day…and perhaps a bit of healing. I pray others did, as well. Here are a few impressions I come away with. Feel free to share some of yours with me.

1. THE MOMENT. Nothing Barack Obama said could match the profound reality of the day—an African-American (albeit via a Kenyan father and white American mother) man was being sworn in as President of the United States 46 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the other end of the National Mall to declare a profound hope and a Dream.

2. THE THRONG. That sea of 1.5 million+ people on the National Mall, their spirited responses to reporters, and their willingness to endure freezing temps for many hours to be a part of the history-making moment: awesome!

3. SUBDUED SPEECH. Obama’s speech will be memorable for its subdued tone, call to personal responsibility, and pointed break with Bush policies. Obama did not “preach” as he might have (and has done inspiringly on occasion). Instead, he challenged--level-headedly and forthrightly and measuredly. He spoke to a humbled and economically-vulnerable nation that has lost integrity in the eyes of many people around the world. It wasn’t a time to gloat.

4. OLD VALUES. Let’s see: “Hard work, honesty, courage, fair play, tolerance, curiosity, loyalty, and patriotism.” Hmmm. Doesn’t sound like a quick slide into moral bankruptcy to me.

5. CALL TO RESPONSIBILITY. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

6. UNCLENCH YOUR FIST. “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

7. SIMPLE GIFTS. Loved the instrumental quartet playing “Simple Gifts.” Exquisite. “‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, ‘tis a gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, t‘will be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To turn, turn, will be our delight, ‘til by turning, turning, we come, ‘round right.”

8. COLORFUL BENEDICTION. I enjoyed the Rev. Lowery’s benediction. Quite a bit more than a prayer, I thought he stole the show. From words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to his rhyming quip and responsive triple “Amen” at the end, it surpassed in poignancy and inspiration the earlier prayer/speech of the Rev. Rick Warren (though I thought Warren handled himself relatively well).

9. INAUGURAL POEM. I will have to listen and read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem a few more times to appreciate its fullness. That’s the way it is with most weighty and non-rhyming poems. Can you remember one phrase from Robert Frost’s poem at John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration? Ten points if you can. But we remember and appreciate Robert Frost’s other poetry. We’ll see if Alexander becomes more familiar to us. Here’s one line I really liked: “Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.”

10. OBAMAS WALK. I held my breath for the entire 7 and a half minutes that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walked in the street during the parade. I learned today that our new President was wearing bullet-deterring Kevlar underclothing. See, he IS like Superman!

11. LONG PARADE. I enjoyed the Inaugural parade into the night to its very end on C-SPAN. You know me and parades—I love ‘em. Bands great to not so good strutted before the President’s bullet-proof viewing stand. Military units of every sort marched with pride and precision. The large international flag-waving Peace Corps group, though rag-tag, was heartening. It’s a long parade, but it only happens every four years. Worth the watch.

12. INAUGURAL GALAS. I stayed awake to see the President and First Lady speak and dance at a few of the Inaugural Balls. I like the name of one: “The Neighborhood Ball.” I’d like to attend that one sometime (though I can’t dance!). Hey, why wait? Let's have a neighborhood gala of our own! Celebrate the city and the neighbors who make it great!

I welcome your responses and/or questions. Click on "responses" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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