This post originally appeared on January 20, 2009 on DC Metro Moms
The next time I see my son, there will be a new President. And if things go as I think they miraculously might, thanks to the generosity of a friend, I will get to say that I was actually there, within shivering distance of the swearing in.
I didn’t plan for Inauguration Day to go down the way it looks like it might. In fact, I didn’t plan much at all. At first I said to my husband, “Of course we’ll go. It was no big deal for me to hop on the Metro from work back in ’97 to soak in a little of the parade. In 2001, remember you dropped me off and picked me up at Pentagon City? Of course I was mad that no one was reporting all the protesters, but still. The point is, it was easy.” I never expected every press outlet to put the fear of God into anyone wanting to get near the 2009 festivities. When they did, I began a reluctant retreat, but I never took on the a committed position to avoid going anywhere near the chunk of land (just a few miles from my home) where everyone will want to be. I guess I still hoped something would make it seem possible to be part of this moment.
When a friend suggested we all get together to watch the swearing in, like a Super Bowl party, I figured that was probably the way to go. My son would get the festive vibe, but I still wished we could just get ourselves across the river. Then came the concert option.
Before Beyonce and Bono became synonymous with “Lincoln Memorial,” another friend told me about the Sunday afternoon concert on the Mall as a “feel like you’re among throngs” option. My kid is not yet three years old. I figured he’d respond more to music than a speech anyway. Before we knew there might be half a million people there, the “We Are One” concert seemed like a good option to try to cement an inaugural memory into his carrot-topped head.
So that was all we planned — a possible trip to the Mall on Sunday and a playgroup party on Tuesday. That is, until my mother-in-law could get four tickets to an official ball and before a third friend invited me to take a coveted ticket to join her in the orange seating zone (it’s right up close!) that she scored from a pal who used to work on the Hill. I was suddenly thrust into the reluctant excitement of getting a ball gown for Tuesday night and leaving my house before 7 a.m. to possibly freeze my ears off Tuesday morning. To Be. Right. There.
When the ticket friend called with her invitation, I’d been stuck in traffic trying get to the larger-than-life Sunday concert and was so annoyed at stupidly abandoning our plan to take Metro, I wanted to hurl myself off Key Bridge. “I have a party to go to,” I began when she said she had a proposal for inauguration day. When she then made her once-in-a-lifetime offer, I actually said I’d have to get back to her. Get up so early in the morning? Miss my playgroup party? My husband couldn’t hear the whole conversation but ordered, “Just say yes.”
A few minutes later, we were on the Metro at long last. Over the river and through the tunnel and up on the Mall we popped. The concert was already about half over, but when I heard the bars of U2’s “Pride,” tears started to bubble up from way far down — an anthem from my youth, when I first started to get involved in anti-racist activism, playing in a sea of so many more brown faces that I’ve ever seen at a public event on the Mall. It was the palette of my classroom for six years, and I wept for all my students who never believed this day would come, and for my son, who will hardly remember a day before it did. It goes without saying that having a leader look like you is inspirational when it’s rare. I’m overcome with gratitude that my son will be a white boy in America who does not see that the top of every pyramid has always looked like him.
I wept, shaking, as Obama spoke from the Jumbotron and the top of the Lincoln Memorial peeked out from the Washington Monument hill in the distance. I laughed, still shaking, as my sleepy son perked up to point out “Two Barack Obamas!” on the screens lining the Mall on our way back toward the Capitol.
As the strains of “America” faded, and we honored a request to watch the merry-go-round, I tried to grasp the reality of the opportunities I’ve been given — for this weekend, for 35 years. And I felt vigorously clutching my heart the hope that all this talk of hope will resonate deeply in our nation, settling in the soil and nourishing us all.