Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Putting Away Childish Things

A retrospective on Presidential Inaugurations

I don't talk about my mission too much on here. Maybe I'll get on a rope or two if we're actually chatting but my heart is so full of memory and hope and perspective today that I just can't help it.

I served 18 months in Washington DC. I saw those memorials and that river every day for 18 months and those images are inseparably connected to the deepest convictions of Faith and Love I have in my soul. I can't tell you what it was like standing shoulder to shoulder with people leading and protecting the Free World with my little black name tag on serving with everything I had too, but just a little differently. The seat of world power was blocks away but the power to change lives was in my hands. Everyday I mused on that delicate juxtaposition, on the difference between the senator's Lincoln next to my Missionary Escort in traffic and what it meant. What the concept of home is and how hard you work for it to protect it and share it.

In turn, my patriotism is a blue flame along side the white one of my faith. I cannot see one without the other. So today, seeing those people and hearing those words again touched deep places in me.

I was there at the last one.

I was there during the initial chaos after the aftermath of the election. A group of the Sister Missionaries had inadvertently gotten a group together to go visit the Pentagon the day after the election and got an acted out play-by-play of the previous night's antics from obliging Marine waiting to give the next tour since we didn't have a clue as to what was going on.

For the next few weeks we glanced at headlines to see if they had figured it out yet but the unsettled and annoyed feeling that a fumbled election can create permeated the entire capital. It was a potent, slow crescendo of angst and fear all the way to Inauguration Day. When they day finally came it was psycho bitter cold. Like 10 degrees and 90% humidity with a threat of freezing rain. They almost canceled the ceremonies twice. My mission president gave us leave to attend if we wanted to. My companion didn't want to go and neither did my roommate so I grabbed my other roommate and we found the nearest metro and set out.

We don't get out too much as missionaries but enough to know what things are usually like and enough to know that today was different. I didn't carry any heavy opinions about Bush or the fiasco that had followed election day. I was just really glad to be a part of something this big but the people on the packed metro didn't feel the same. They were quiet. And not the content quiet, oh no. It was the angry and deep thinking quiet.

Things continued to get more and more eerie as we made our way to the Mall area. There were more protesters there than participants and not kind of silly loud jovial protesters, these were people with who had painted their faces black and held angry angry signs.

Now imagine, milling through all these charged people were these Texas fat cats. Middle aged rounded men in leather trench coats with gold tipped vanity canes, eel skin boots, and fine leather 10 gallon hats strutting through the crowd like peacocks. It was almost as if they were surveying some conquered new acquisition. It was so mind numbingly cold that all I really can draw from memory are images. They, and the overwhelming feelings permeating everything was all that stuck. Most of my energy that days was focused on keeping warm and not complaining about it. There wasn't much left to really soak in what all these people and things meant. Only the eeriness and stark contrast of the kinds of people around that day remain and it still feels like yesterday.

We layered up as best we could be we still were in our missionary skirts and nylons. I had my pea coat and a hat and scarf and 2 pairs of long johns on as well but wet cold knows no boundaries.

We stood there for the whole hour and a half service and clapped and sang and prayed with our new President and when it was over we started to walk away but my legs gave because they had become numb from the knees on down. We staggered over to the National Gallery to warm up and digest what had just happened and got on the metro and were home by 11. We took pictures by the CNN jumbo screen and all that but that day has haunted me more than I think I realize.

So flash forward to Jan 20th, 2009:

Today was huge in my house. I know that I'm not bashful with my political leanings but I know some people are so I don't touch on it too often to be respectful but I would like to take a moment and reflect and explain why today was a Today.

My mother was a dedicated Civil Rights mover and shaker in her time. She held her signs and sang her folk music and sat in with all that her huge heart could muster. Its a dedication that she's handed off to us. She called me up crying on election night when I was at Institute and could only say "we did it" through her tears.

Just last week she came into my room weeping because it had hit her for the 3rd or 4th time that a good man, a strong man, a hopeful and bright man who was also a black man was taking office. This was a win that my mother has been aching for for 40 years. A real hard copy of the social evolution she devoted most of her early life to. Civil Rights was part of how my mother has observed her faith testimony so today was holy day seeing that wrong made right and I cried with her. I kept reminding her we're only half way there and she smiled and laughed but the sentiment remains the same I think.

Experiencing 1.20.09 with my mom was rare. Her life experience and mine combined in the same room and sharing the same box of kleenex but for different reasons was singular.

On the TV I saw miles and miles of people, packed to the gills in the freezing weather happy and hopeful. When I was there there was extra room in the Mall. I saw a sunny beautiful day with hopeful blue skies, not threatening freezing rain. I saw people bowed in prayer not being knocked over by people walking away as my head was bowed too. I saw a whole different America with a whole different attitude.

I would like to thank Mr. Bush in my really little way for his work. I don't know the man at all but he was my President and that is not an easy thing to be. But its something he did for 8 years after an insane life and I thank him for fulfilling his oath the best way he knew how. I truly wish him well and hope he has the peace hes been chasing after all these years.

1.20.09 has reminded me of a few things too.

Like every American, I've always craved a large life.

I wanted see huge significant things and think profound lasting thoughts and feel all encompassing feelings and do significant, lasting things. I want my life and the lines on my hands to mean something, not just be something.

I want to speak to 1000s of people at a time and feel the earth moving beneath my feet and see hearts stirring in the eyes of the people I meet. I want to stand for ideas and things that are bigger than me. Like Love and Work and God and Hope. I want to have stories and battle scars. My dream was to be a modern day Spartan. To be that good. To be that tough. To be that committed to what I love.

And on Inauguration Day, for a brief second, maybe even a few, seeing that empowered fleet people I felt apart of something bigger - I felt like I was. Like I did. Like I am.


Nicole said...

Beautiful post Liz. I can't wait to talk more with you about the inauguration when I'm in town this weekend. Here's to hope!

Quixotic Healer said...

Politics was always one of those guilt-enducing things to me....that feeling that I needed to do more, be more, etc. but that I didn't know how because I didn't KNOW enough.

It's amazing how much can change with a little knowledge. I don't know if my friends and family talk more about politics, or if I just listen when they do, but I have learned so much in the past two years. (Of course, dear NPR helps a lot too!)

I felt so much more prepared for the last few elections, like I knew what I was doing, and what I believed.

For someone very self-aware, I am incredibly unfamiliar with my own mind about certain things, lol.

Anyway....I too felt the miracle of inauguration day. I still have a lot to learn, but no one had to teach me that!

Mr. Hall said...

Congratulations! It sounds like quite a moment for you and your mom. I am excited to have a black President and to see that we have so progressed as a nation. . . I only wish that it was J. C. Watts--a politician whose politics are more in line with my own. Anyhow, here is to hope! Skål!!!

Tracy said...

Yes, it was a historic inauguration but I was sorely disappointed by the actions of the crowds. Booing the outgoing President?

That's just lame.

And was there less hate - or was it just less visible? I can't imagine the media chosing to cover anti-Obama sentiments...