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January 21, 2009 8:42 AM

Reflections on ceremony

Posted by seattletimes.com staff

Submitted by Himanee Gupta-Carlson

The walk to the ceremony was perhaps more joyous than the ceremony itself. We were part of what my friend, Jenny, described as a tsunami of people walking together through barricaded streets. Even though we had maps, we're visitors to DC and were quite perplexed by the maze that the scattered security detail had put us through.

Still, there was happiness and a shared sense of celebration. The fact that an African American was about to be sworn in as president and an unpopular president whose policies had frustrated so many Americans was about to depart seemed to create a conviviality that could overcome other irritations.

The sight of the magnificent Washington monument brought tears to my eyes. I've seen it many times, but it always impresses me. Today with birds swooping around it in circles it seemed to hold spiritual significance.

Finding a place to view the inaugural ceremony on the monument lawns drew us back to earth. The more we pressed forward the more unlikely it seemed to be that I -- at 4-10 -- would be able to see and the more anxious others seemed to be to protect their turf. Finally, we settled for a spot more to the rear where we could view a Jumbotron screen but barely hear.

I tried to tune out the incessant "frat boy" cool chatter that seemed to constantly erupt around me and not get involved in campaigns to boo the Bushes -- young and old -- as they appeared on the screen. I kept remembering a definition I'd heard about team spirit: cheer for your team and not against the other. And I remembered Obama himself stating in "The Audacity of Hope" that while he strenuously opposed Bush's policies he never thought ill of Bush himself. Plus, I wanted reverence, not the crass posture Reagan assumed when he replaced Carter in office.

The back of the pack did bring some blessings. Little Derek chanting "Yes we can" and the masses suddenly joining in the official singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" as we moved frosted bodies away from the monument, unaware that the ceremony was still occurring until we heard that familiar song.

We missed the parade. Earlier we'd heard that we would have to choose between the swearing-in ceremony and the parade. We thought we could have done both, but after a very slow half-step at a time walk away from the mall, our bodies had overruled our minds. We had to sit down.

What I saw in the subways, the streets and at the ceremony was an outpouring of the emotional energy that Barack Obama has worked so many years to channel into citizenship. It is energizing, unifying, and fun. And it takes work to sustain. One of my students remarked in a text message that it seemed as if I had not slept. Many have not and we need rest. Yet we cannot afford to sit back too much and allow the fire that has been built to go out.

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