Tuesday, January 20, 2009
President. Barack. Hussein. Obama.
This morning, on my way to work, my predominant emotion was one of relief. Relief that the Bush administration is at an end. It is no more. It can inflict no more damage on the world.
At my workplace, a small crowd gathered around the big screen tee-vee in the cafeteria to watch the inaugural ceremonies. We watched as the various dignitaries and statesmen came onto the dais: Senators Reid and Roberts. Congressmen Hoyer and Boehner. President and Mrs. Carter. President and Mrs. Bush the Elder. President and Mrs. Clinton. And, yes, President and Mrs. Bush the Lesser.
Then, as I watched footage of the new First Family making its way to the Capitol, I felt a surge of sympathy and regret for Barack Obama. I just recently finished reading Leo Tolstoy's masterpiece, War and Peace, and as I watched the President-elect and his wife get out of their limousine, shadowed by Secret Service agents, I reflected on how persons in positions of authority are stripped of the illusion of freedom; how their lives are transparently governed by the laws of human behavior. I believe that our new president is a good and sincere and idealistic man, and I fear that the course of human events may break him as it has so many before him.
Pastor Rick Warren delivered the opening invocation. His was a fine sermon, expressing hopes and prayers with which all people of good will must agree. Aretha Franklin sang a prelude to Vice-President Joseph Biden's swearing in.
Then, a musical selection, composed by John Williams and performed by four of the world's most accomplished virtuosos: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet).
Then, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to our new President of the United States, Barack Obama.
The Inaugural address
We watched the address, myself and some 30 coworkers, in the large lounge area in our cafeteria building. And no one said a word throughout.
The speech was sobering, but also hopeful. President Obama spoke of the challenges ahead and of his faith in our ability to meet those challenges. He spoke of responsibility and of extending a hand to one another.
By the time our new president had finished speaking, my cynicism, the cynicism that had grown like a cancer on my heart for eight long years, had melted away.
I am mildly embarrassed by my own emotion. I find it self-indulgent to allow oneself to submit to sentiments imposed by ceremony and ritual. And I tried to resist getting swept away by the moment. Honestly, I did.
But it proved to be beyond me. I discreetly wiped my eyes several times during the speech. And I noticed others among my coworkers doing the same. It's been a very long and painful eight years. They've taken a lot out of me, personally. And as the President articulated in his speech, we've all got some enormous challenges ahead.