Even now, I grapple with words adequate enough to express the experience. And then this writer of more than ten novels accepts reality: there are none. No words, adjectives or superlatives that can accurately convey the measure of the moment: the energy, the feeling of Oneness that blanketed our country, and the world. Where for a span of time: whether by choice or accident: all colors, cultures, religions and ethnicities came together, gave a collective amen…and bore witness.
Finally, I realize I don’t have to describe it. Because you were there too. Whether you were on the mall, or on a side street, or in your home, or at a community center’s viewing party, restaurant, church or bar, or even at work, you know how it felt when you witnessed history, when you bore witness to the truth of a page turning to a new chapter in America’s history. We probably felt the same way. Amazed and elated, trying to juxtapose the reality with the surreal…watching the staid, rigid, one-dimensional regime of old make way for the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-dimensional new leadership. Finally, a man leading our country who truly reflects its diversity…on so many levels! Even as we watched our nation’s first Black president saunter up to the podium and spoke of a new day and a new way in America, this “change we can believe in” was hard to believe! But it is here.
My inauguration experience officially began on Monday, when I traveled into the city to pick up my coveted viewing ticket. From the time I stepped out of Union Station, I was enveloped in the magic. Street vendors sold any and everything that boasted either Barack or Michelle’s name or face. Tourists from every part of the globe mingled with the natives, the residents of “Chocolate City,” and we did it with grace, and ease. The first remark I heard upon reaching the street was from a conversation between two Caucasian twenty-somethings who I later learned were from Portland, Oregon. “Wow, it sure is different here.” I turned and smiled. Not only because of their rich, new experience of being the minority in a world of color, but of their awe and joy, instead of fear, at this fact.
That night I attended an inaugural ball where we hoped the Prez and his wife would pay a visit. The closest he got was across the street, where Joe Biden was being honored. But still we were the beautiful people, standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, having arrived in DC by way of lynchings and riots, peaceful protests and affirmative action. Listening to Afro Blue, Howard University’s a cappella chorus, we were joined by the spirits of those who’d witnessed the emancipation proclamation, the underground railroad, the civil rights movement; who’d endured sits ins and shout outs and “no ways tired.” We stood in the shadows of a grandmother’s toil and a father’s sacrifice. And I’m sure I felt their energy and their joy as we kept it real with an exuberant rendition of the electric slide!
The next morning I boarded a chartered bus for D.C., a city that was virtually shut down, inaccessible. There was no transportation from Baltimore, where I was staying, to the Capitol. The Marc train had been sold out for at least a week. Improbable neons signs, with messages like “no parking in D.C.” flashed as our driver barreled down the highway. We joined dozens, if not hundreds of other buses at the RFK stadium, and were herded (a very appropriate description for the thousands in line) on to a very efficient shuttle system, and dropped off near 7th and Frontage Road, about a thirty minute walk to the action, to the coveted Capitol Hill.
We arrived early, seven-thirty, and I was glad. Later I would learn that my arrival to the mall an hour later was just in time. Around nine-thirty, the mall was shut down completely, unable to accommodate the ever-growing mass of people wanting to take their place in history. The official count for attendance at President Obama’s swearing in is 1.8 million, but that is only the number that could get on the mall! I would guess that a million more lined the streets, both outside the initial ceremony and along the parade route. It was a controlled chaos, and patience abounded. We laughed, joked and plodded through the streets in a millions-strong throng, and then waited for more than five hours, our closely assembled bodies providing much needed heat, until the moment when we heard it become official: “I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear…”
I am bursting with memories, could fill a book with them: the seventy-something church mother who abandoned her wheelchair to stand as the oath was administered, the forty-something bishop from Florida who had brought her there, along with thirty other church members, children of all races on the shoulders of their fathers, mothers and daughters holding hands, friends high-fiving, strangers hugging, calls from friends and family wanting a long-distance, real time “play by play”, a plethora of accents and dialects amidst a bouquet of nationalities and genders, spectators breaking through barriers for a closer view, policemen letting us do it, teenagers skating on the frozen pond, tears mingling with laughter as we heard from our president, the human grid that locked retreating pedestrians for moments, even hours, after the ceremony was over.
But the best part, for me, was “the moment”. After the pomp and circumstance of introducing our government, Aretha’s homage to our country, Rick’s inclusive prayer and the roll call of presidents who had served before him…then they came, Mr. & Mrs. Obama, to take their unique and special place inside a selective history. To break from the past and embrace a new present, leading to a more positive future. We are blessed to have been alive in this time, to experience firsthand what others will read about in history books. We were there. When “yes we can” became “yes we did” and is now “yes we will”. Because Tuesday, November 4th, 2009 wasn’t just the end of an era, but the beginning of another one; a more positive America, an expectant, hopeful world. And with the power of our vote, it’s a world we helped create. Can I get a witness?
Lutishia Lovely is a freelance writer, and author of the Hallelujah Love series which features the just released trade paperback, A Preacher’s Passion. Visit her website today at: http://www.lutishialovely.com/.
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