The television is on, it's early, nothing is really happening but yet everything is changing. My heart randomly seems to stop, tears well up at nothing in particular. The last time I watched an inauguration was Clinton's with his promises and charm; what I remember was hope and Maya Angelou. Now I am glued to the television. I am moved and fearful.
"The people we are waiting for is us". That piece of Obama's message was just stated again and it was projected that it will be a theme in his speech. That would certainly echo Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you but what will you do for your country" theme. It is a far cry from Bush's style of engagement with this country. We will just leave it that.
This is a day I always hoped for, very much tied in my mind with the hope of a woman president for this country, since I was a child. Raised in a democratic household, an academic household, and a feminist household gave me a sense of the injustice in the world but also they somehow managed to cultivate my innate hopefulness in humanity. That hopefulness, my optimistic nature has been scoffed even by my father who said a number of times that I would outgrow what he called my naivete. I would like to think that I have not.
My mother's first political activism was campaigning for Kennedy even though she was not old enough to vote (one had to be 21 years old at that time). She felt so connected to him that she sent him a birth announcement when I was born. it is had for me to imagine, even today doing the same with any president. I suppose it was a different time, or perhaps it was more about how connected one can feel to a public figure. It is true that I feel like I could actually have a conversation with Obama, but my mother's act feels like a stretch and yet I can imagine people sending birth announcement to him as she did all those years ago. She also received a formal acknowledgement from the White House. It is postmarked 11 days before he was assassinated.
Growing up my parents marched for civil rights, the women's movement, and against the Vietnam War. I went to a number of these events, though I remember little of them I am certain that they contributed to who I am today. I have no conscious memory of King's or RKF's assisnations but they too shaped me as they were topics that ran our kitchen table. Vocal condemnations rang out again Nixon and his politics. When Shirley Chisholm was campaigning her image littered our home, buttons on labels, and words of hope whispered, shouted. Stories that though my grandfather was a white European, an escapee from Dachau, he was so dark (helped by lying in the sun at every opportunity) that he and my grandmother were refused service. Even looking not white enough left one vulnerable to prejudice.
Today we have an African-American president. How did we get here? I don't actually know the answer, on a really deep profound level. I really don't. I am awed that we are but I also do not think this changes everything. Not even close but what a start to the potential new world. Now my heart has regulated, the tears have stopped (mostly), and my breathing is easier (again, mostly) because he is now officially our president and it does change everything regardless what happens next.