Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One Last Post with Inauguration Thoughts

In between the concerts and the swearing in, I was having celebration fatigue. I couldn't figure out why I was so peeved, but I felt over-celebrified, annoyed at the administration trashing from people who totally benefitted from the tax structure set in place in the last eight years, and who I'd never seen involved with the campaign before. (I wasn't so bothered by, say, because he was such an early--and visible--supporter. But by the time Justin Timberlake was spouting off on Oprah about the US having "swagger again," all I could think was, where were you for the last 8 years when ALL we had was swagger? I'm looking to some substance, humility, and cooperation for my next administration. What we don't need is swagger.

But I think that was all just covering my soul screaming "GET OBAMA INAUGURATED ALREADY!" because by the time we got to that, I was all misty eyed and ready to celebrate again. For as much as I hear, understand, and often agree with his critics, he is our new president, and as such, deserves our prayers and support. And since his election, I have been nothing but impressed with what I have seen and heard from him. It takes guts to appoint political rivals to high positions. It is so much easier to take the "yes man" road, surrounding yourself with folks who always see things your way. And he has sought out people for positions that will force him--and them--to discuss, negotiate, and pull apart problems from multiple perspectives.

And there is the undeniable joy that comes from a single moment sweeping millions of people in to feeling like true Americans after decades, centuries, of feeling marginalized. Even if it was perception catching up with reality, it was a beautiful thing. Hearing the cracking voices of the elderly, who remembered life in Jim Crow, and "separate but equal," and different bathrooms and water fountains, and not getting to choose any seat on the was powerful. When we were in Ireland, we stayed in a series of about 16 bed and breakfasts. At least half of them had a portrait of President Kennedy hanging prominently in the home's living room or dining room. In the days before the economic Celtic tiger, it was very meaningful for the Irish Catholics to see "one of us" in arguably the most powerful position in the world. As someone whose life was post-Kennedy, I grew up knowing that an Irish Catholic could be president, and was a little amused by the devotion to someone these people never knew who died before I was born. But I think now of how many places will hang President Obama's portrait in places of honor, to inspire them, and I understand, at least a little, the power of that symbol. And I am glad that my boys will grow up in a world where it's not just possible to imagine a non-white president, but where it's reality.

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." I almost wept when I heard that. Even when I didn't love our presidents, I was always proud to be American, and admired our military for the way the top people took responsibility for those they oversaw. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo took that away from me and made me ashamed of my country. Just as profanity usually marks a weak vocabulary, relying on brute force belies a lack of faith in other methods--ones that rely on courage and intelligence. And having birthed an almost eleven pound baby with no anesthesia, I'll tell you this: torture does not work. At all. In the final stages of labor, I was totally willing to promise anyone anything--and I did--to get them to make the pain stop. And even after, curled up in the delivery room, weeping with relief that it was over, all I could think of was that this is why torture is ineffective. I was promising the nurses exotic vacations and hand-delivered letters to the president of the hospital praising their professionalism and compassion if only they would turn on the epidural again. I don't know the president of the hospital. And I don't know where I was going to get the money for the vacations. But I would have cheerfully given them the deed to my house if they would only have made the pain end. Where was I? Oh, yes, torture. There is no need for it outside of 24. And at one point, even John McCain thought so, so my chances of that particular diminishment of my country being ended was high. But it was a beautiful thing to hear, and I was touched that even the 8th graders in the auditorium where I watched burst in to applause when those words were spoken.

As someone who has spent the last few years mostly at home with my kids, it was a lovely sound to hear both the president and the poet talk about parenting in the same breath as paid work.

And my favorite visual? Besides the obvious--the tear streaked faces, the waving flags, Sasha's thumbs-up, the first dance--did anyone catch the cut to Michelle Obama's face when the preacher doing the final benediction referred to the "angelic children?" The look on her face was pure mom. Ninety percent a smile of agreement...and ten percent thinking, "Angels. Riiiight. Angels. I'll remember that next time they skip their homework/don't eat their peas/argue with me about wearing a hootchie Hannah Montana outfit." It was beautiful and real and I wish I had a screen shot of that look.

OK. There are some of my impressions of the day. Now, the real work begins.

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