Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration of Barack Obama

Looks chilly in Washington DC today. Rectangles of people, massed and packed and cheering together, march down the mall to Congress. It's a sign of how Barack Obama's election as President of the United States of American has brought to life the people such that they want to stand in the chill air, under blue-grey skies, to be near the inauguration, the ceremony so reminiscent of the English monarch's coronation yet watch it on large television screens, probably getting nary a glimpse of Obama. The view down the mall to Congress is a multi-coloured mosaic of hats and heads. People walk quickly on roads and sidewalks to a place as close to Congress as possible. In the distance, a band plays. The television screen splits to show Kevin Newman, the anchor of Global National, dressed in earmuffs, striped scarf, and natty dark coat. The other split shows the Bushes seniors, with George senior limping, walking to their places, Jimmy Carter and his wife striding down to theirs, the Clintons walking hand in hand (sort of), side by side to theirs, and then back to shots of the people waiting in the cold before returning to Laura Bush and then later George W. Bush following.

Meanwhile GlobalNational shows Canadians seated in Bloor Cinema, talking about some hardy souls braving the even colder, sunny air of downtown Toronto at Dundas Square, all waiting to watch the inauguration. Once again we hear from Derek Burney, former Canadian Ambassador to the US. Michael Wilson remains our current ambassador. He talks of the new opportunity to work together, but we will have to make the effort and come up with the ideas. I'm not so sure. Obama has signalled a greater respect to Canada by returning to the traditional first foreign visit by a US President, and Obama is a fountain of ideas. The problem will be that Canada not be steamrollered over, playing catch up to the US, especially in light of Canadians, while on the one hand lauding the hope of Obama, rejecting the progressive environmental ideas of Stephane Dion in favour of stuffy Harper who did not read the writing on the wall.

Michelle Obama wears a flattering dress-coat ensemble of gold with a glittering neckline, like a choker of diamonds, stars sprinkling the cloth. Simple elegance.

At last Barack Obama appears, regal and aloof, only briefly letting go his supreme self-control and joy and excitement plays on his face. He follows Nancy Pelosi and sundry dignitaries and makes his way to the door. At last, the announcer announces, "Ladies and Gentleman, President-Elect of
the United States, Barack H Obama." The band plays, cameras click, flags wave madly people
cheer O-ba-ma; he smiles, shakes hands.

Senator begins the opening remarks while Global's Kevin Newman and reporters speak over them. Time to switch channels. She ends, "
We pledge ourselves to the hope, the vision, the unity, the renewed call to greatness inspired by the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama." Rick Warren, author of many inspiring books, takes his turn at the lecturn. He prays for the US, its respect for other peoples, for peace on the planet. While Obama bows his head, eyes closed, face clenched in concentration, Warrne commits him and his wife and his daughters into God's loving care. He closes with the Lord's Prayer.

Aretha Franklin, in a fantastic hat, sings. What more can I say?

And then Joe Biden confidently and strongly repeats the oath of office for the Vice Presidency. Trumpets blast in joy; the band plays military style. Clapping, hand shaking, hugs, smiles all around.

And now the crowd grows silent once more as an intrumental ensemble including Itzhak Perlman and Yoyo Ma, play Air and Simple Gifts, a composition created just for this inauguration. Perlman's exquisite violin begins, Ma's harmonious cello widens the notes, the clarinet and piano grow in volume, the pace picks up and we go from haunting to happy, into the notes of a familiar Christian song, back to a slow, long-note ending. Applause for this excellent instrumental interlude.

Chief Justice John G Roberts steps to the podium to administer the Presidential Oath of Office. It is short. Blink and it's over. Obama suddenly forgot what Roberts had asked him to repeat. But then
he goes from stumbling over the words to repeating the last few fast. Cameras shake, cannons blast, the band plays. People wave their flags madly and cheer so loudly, they overwhelm the microphone into which Obama is about to speak. The sound engineers turn off those crowd mikes.

Barack Obama then turned to speak to the audience in front of him. I tweeted his words as they hit me, I'm sure getting some wrong, and so I recommend reading them in full. He moved from humility to challenge, from inspiration to call for responsibility of citizenship, from history to today, from remonstrating enemy nations to calling out to nation friends to see the suffering outside their borders, to lifting up the people to know they can face these storm clouds and thrive. The crowd hushed to hear his words, cheering in few places when he spoke of Forefathers, of themselves. The people cheered and whistled when he ended, "Thank you and God Bless America." He smiled, he grinned, he shook hands. He may be alone with his awesome responsibility, but in this moment, happiness and excitement fills him.

Next up,
American Poet Elizabeth Alexander reads her poem. Unfortunately, I found it, um, not engaging. But the bent, white-haired Rev Joseph E Lowery, who followed her was. In his gravelly, shaky voice, head dipping down behind the giant Presidential microphones, he spoke the Benediction. Words rhyming, phrases inspiring, he grabbed all our attention, his powerful presence rolling up and over those microphones, sinking into bowed heads, and resting in our hearts. And then he breaks the solemnity with rapping fun, crowd bursting into laughter in surprise. And by the time he finished with, "And say Amen, and Amen, and Amen," the people were with him, repeating after him.

This inauguration moment ended with the MC asking all to rise to sing the national anthem. Of course, the majority already were risen. They sang together, Obama smiled broadly, only Bush's eclipsing his, as they waved and left for the inauguration lunch.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Inaugural Address and the Benediction were memorable, possibly timeless. The Invocation and Inaugural Poem were not.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

I agree. Listening to the Benediction, I wanted to hear it again.