I beat my alarm this morning. It was set for 3:20 am, but I opened my eyes on the dot of 3 am. How on earth did my mind know it was time? I’m always amazed by the accuracy of these ahead-of-the-alarm mornings – sometimes the precision of it is such that I wonder if a silent corner of my mind started counting down the seconds as soon as I got into bed. What a powerful thing a mind is. I wish I could understand mine properly, and harness its full potential. I wonder what secrets and strengths it possesses, and how I might unlock them. I can’t bear knowing there are doors I’ll never open, insights I’ll never glean, but such it is with my very own mind, the defining mystery of my life.
I crept out to the lounge room, careful not to wake Llew, and turned on the buttons he showed me earlier to use. Sure enough, TV coverage live from Washington sprang up on the opposite wall. Unfortunately he could only access the Australian commercial networks, so the commentary was disappointing, but I didn’t care. I was electrified, sitting there in the dark. The sweeping shots of the hardy crowd, rugged up against temperatures of -6 or worse, took my breath away. They stretched on as far as the eye and the camera could see.
At 3:30 am, the door pushed to, and Llew stumbled in. After giving me strict instructions not to wake him, he’d set his own alarm for 3:25 am without telling me. It was even better sitting in the darkness together. I thought of Jenny and others sitting in their own lounge rooms, early morning in Australia, but also right around the world, and the sense of a sweet moment of solidarity in our shared global history was palpable. This isn’t a presidency only Americans want to see thrive; this isn’t an administration whose relevance lies only on its domestic shores. This is one for all of us.
How I battle between fretting and hoping when I think of the days ahead for President Obama. I worry for his safety; I yearn for his success. Boy oh boy, has he got his work cut out for him. And can he do other than disappoint with the weight of such expectations upon him? The burden and responsibility of this extraordinary show of faith. He looked already aged as he made his way outside – I can’t imagine the thoughts that were his as he stepped out and greeted the reported 2 million Americans and visitors who flocked to share this hopeful occasion with this man and each other. It makes my hair stand on end all over again recalling it now. It must have been something to see from where Barack Obama stood.
The reverend who gave the first benediction? To a non-believing Australian, he was totally over the top. Llew and I were intrigued but sort of put off by his shouty zeal. I much preferred the second reverend, who gave the benediction after President Obama was sworn in. Who will ever forget his unexpected vision of a future where “yeller will be meller, red will get ahead, and white will know what’s right.” Indeed!
I did feel a bit sorry for the poetess, though. Poor thing – it seemed likely to me that she found the whole experience of addressing the crowd excruciating, for certainly the reading was so stilted I very nearly winced. I hadn’t expected a poetry reading – is that a usual part of proceedings? I wonder. It’s a lovely idea. Llew had misgivings about new music and new poetry being debuted at the inauguration – he thought they should have relied on time-honoured classics – but I wasn’t so sure. The whole thrust of Obama’s speech was looking to the future, and stepping up – walking toward the dawn instead of focusing on those many and often great days that are already done. In that context, these new pieces are symbolic of the national and international renewal Obama embodies for so many people.
Americans have no problem invoking their history, it’s a national pastime, and as much as it swells their chests with pride and patriotism, Obama’s right to suggest it’s not enough to keep gesturing to the greatness of one’s ancestors. Every age has to speak and act for itself, every age is responsible for its own contribution to history, and this is only the beginning of what remains to be done.