When you live just outside Washington DC, and your candidate wins the presidency, you go to the Inauguration? Right? Oh, wait. Millions of other people are planning to go. The temperatures will be below freezing. There is no hope of getting transportation into the city that morning because the Metros will be mobbed and the roads closed, which means walking from Virginia.
Thanks, but we’ll watch it with friends, share pizza and memories and cry our happy tears together.
Then the invitation arrives!
Are we really going to miss a chance to see the Inauguration up close? Are we going to let the temperatures and miles stop us? Are we going to waste the generosity of our Congressman, who tracked down my husband to be sure he knew we had been invited?
So the plans begin. Friends offer a place in their driveway. Now we will only have to walk four and a half miles each way. Leave early. Bring all our own food and water. Plan to use the gazillion portable toilets on our route.
Yes, this we can do!
Then a new plan emerges. Our oldest son gets an invitation, too, to the same standing room area. Now we’re all going and going together. He’s a lawyer. We can sleep on the floor at his firm. Then we can head over early and get our place to stand. Yes, this we can do!
So after a “nap” on the only couch and a wonderful dinner at DC Coast with our son, we set up camping mattresses and sleeping bags on the floor and prepare for a long night. It’s longer than we could have imagined. There’s a nightclub three floors below. And the thrumming of bass and the staccato rapping of a male vocalist keep us up until 2AM. The sirens, sounds of celebration and erecting of vendor stands keep us up the rest of the night. Who needs sleep? This we can do!
Morning finally arrives and with it, breakfast next door. We get to see the vendors up close. The American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. We buy Obama Inauguration hats. They will sell well. With wind chill, it’s 8 degrees outside. But we came prepared. This we can do!
We begin our walk. We see lines. Not our lines, as it turns out. Parade route lines. And the parade begins at 2:30. That’s six hours away. Wow, these people are serious. They woke up this morning and said, what’s a little wait in the freezing cold? This we can do!
We are channeled farther and farther from the area where we need to be. The crowd grows thicker, and thicker.
Everyone is polite. Everyone seems elated. No one pushes, no one complains. People pass information back and forth. Bundled against the weather we all look alike. No race, no age, no rich or poor. We’re in this together. This we can do!
Along the way we see the massive security efforts. Police out in force, along with Secret Service and the Army. Snipers pace on the roofs of stately buildings. Wrapped in every conceivable layer, I pose with the mobile crime lab van. Don’t I wish I could go inside and look it over?
Then our journey comes to a halt. We reach 14th Street, just seconds after the Secret Service closes the crossing. Information is as scarce as warm hands. Will they reopen? Is there another way across and on to the mall and the silver section where we’re to stand? Our problem seems minor compared to the mom who left her family on the other side to race back for food and now can’t reach them. We wait an hour. The crowd’s getting thicker. We are hemmed in tight. Still, people are polite. We share information. We find out where people are from and why they have come.
We are told, at last, that the road will not open until 6PM tonight. We have no place to go except back. The crowds behind us are now huge.
Viewing the Jumbotrons is impossible. I am forced to take off my gloves for photos, fish my camera out from under my coat, hold it high and hope for the best. All those tiny dots between the trees? People. Thousands of them who woke up this morning and said: “This we can do.”
And they did. No one seems to care very much if they can or can’t move forward. They’re here to make history. They will content themselves with whatever they can see on the Jumbotrons and hugs and shouts of joy. It’s far too exciting to worry about temperatures or proximity. They are receiving exactly what they’ve come for. Hope.
We start back to the law offices where we will be able to see the swearing-in ceremony. On the way we pass a Metro, look at each other and descend to see if we can get home, instead. No one is there, because, after all, they’re all behind us now. We catch a train in three minutes, a cab when we arrive back in Virginia and we’re home from the station in less than ten. We walk inside and turn on the heater and the television set. And in ten minutes we are watching Barack Hussein Obama sworn in as our next president. Both of us weep.
All those years ago, when I researched Iron Lace and Rising Tides, my two part series about civil rights and an interracial love affair in turn of the century Louisiana, I would not have believed that someday in my lifetime, I would witness such a moment as the one I witnessed today.
One morning Barack Obama woke up and said: “This I can do.” And today, he did. One morning our nation woke up and said: “This we can do, and it’s past time that we did.”
I have never been prouder of my country.