Eight years ago I was ecstatic that our nation hit a milestone with the inauguration of the first African-American president. It seemed we had turned a corner both in racial symbolism and in core values. All seemed possible. A young president with a beautiful family close to my own children’s ages who campaigned on hope, on light overcoming darkness, on further perfecting our union was just what the doctor ordered.
Speaking of doctors, the 2009 inauguration happened a day before my mastectomy, just a couple of weeks after I finished my 6th and final chemo on Christmas Eve. I crassly commented (under the influence of morphine) that I’d gotten rid of three boobs in 24 hours. No doubt, the rising tide of optimism lifted my boat during those dark, bald days.
For eight years, the White House was full of grace, intelligence, and integrity. Now we’ve been whipsawed back to darkness. An unsettling uncertainty lies ahead but I assure you that dawn always comes.
I’ve lived that Truth.
I bet you have too.
I’m not planning to watch the inauguration today. I respect that Mr. Trump is (almost) our president and will do my best not to call him names if I find myself under the influence of morphine. The peaceful transition of power has never been more impressive, in my lifetime at least, because for the first time I had doubt that it would happen.
And I do hope that he is successful in bringing America together, in fixing the healthcare system, and in enabling the disenfranchised.
An America greater than the one we celebrated on 1/20/09 is hard to imagine. But we created that and we can create more. As we plow forward as one nation, don’t forget the poem Elizabeth Alexander’s read into the sharp sparkle of winter air.
Praise Song for the Day – Elizabeth Alexander
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.