My experience on Inauguration Tuesday
My true inauguration experience began Monday night. My friends and I decided that we wanted to head downtown and see some of the monuments and the sights of the city. As we got off at the Smithsonian stop, the amount of people mulling around was amazing. It was well after sunset and thousands of people were milling around the Mall, taking in the moment that was a few hours away. We walked around, took pictures, saw the Capital and the Washington Monument and just breathed in the air and energy that was around us. After dinner we headed back to the station to head back and prepare for the day. While in the station we saw many people with blankets, pillows and sleeping bags heading in the direction that we were coming from. They all said that they were going to sleep outside on the Mall. Considering how freezing outside was (20 degrees with a strong wind) they didn't mind. It was at this point that I knew things were going to be serious in the morning.
We went home, headed to bed and awoke around 7 the next morning. We waited for my friend's father who was driving in from North Carolina. As we left the house and headed to the station, the scenes of people were breathtaking. As far as the human eye could see, people were piling into the DC Metro system. As we got off at the Waterfront Station, along with thousands of others, people began singing spirituals. Imagine the scene if you will of thousands of people departing trains and hundreds of them spontaneously breaking out into songs of the struggle. Even on a day when it seemed that some of the struggle that those songs came to symbolize were beginning to fade away.
We walked up the stairs of the train and began to walk toward the Mall. It must have been around a mile walk. As we walked, people began coming from all sides. Young, old, of all races, with wheelchairs, canes and walkers. All headed to the historic scene. As we got to the Mall, we received the news that the police had closed the Mall to spectators. We took our place near a gate with a view of a Jumbo tron. We refused to not be there to see the event. As I looked behind me I saw thousands of people come to the same spot. We were closed in tight, but no one fought, cursed or even cared that we had to share each others personal space.
Many people have asked me was I cold outside. The answer is no. I believe that the body heat of everyone kept the cold to a minimum. But I also believed that the spiritual energy of the crowd kept everyone warm as well. It was amazing to see.
As the dignitaries began to take the stage the energy in the crowd grew. When former President Bush came out, there was an audible boo from the crowd. Aside from that everything was respectful. When the First Family came out, it was a deafening roar. To see the First Lady, shimmering in her amazing outfit and the young girls looking splendid in their outfits as well only made me realize how young and vibrant they were. As we saw soon to be President Obama walk through the Rotunda of the Capital, ready and waiting to be announced, one could not help but realize how much swagger and gravitas he possessed. It was as if he had the weight of all who walked before him, all who struggled before him, all who believed in him on his shoulders. I felt that at that moment, the weight of the occasion became clear to him.
Things got very emotional for a lot of people when Aretha Franklin began to sing "My Country Tis of Thee." Listening to the words: "Land where my fathers died/ land of the pilgrims cried/ from every mountain side/ let freedom ring" really got to me. I remember going to public school as a young boy singing this song. I remembered my teachers telling me that I could be anything that I wanted to be. And I remember not really knowing if I truly believed them, for the one reason that doors to people like me remained closed. I thought at that moment of all of the others who didn't live to see this moment and undeniably choked up. It was stunning to hear complete silence on the Mall as she sang.
Rick Warren did an outstanding job with his invocation. I teared up as he described his feelings on the day. To see him break down as he delivered the invocation was beautiful. As Vice President Joe Biden received his oath, the moment that everyone was waiting for was close. The musical interlude was great, but we knew what we were all waiting for.
President Obama took to the podium with Michelle and took the oath. The sheer enthusiasm of the crowd was outstanding. People around me hugged, laughed, hugged, and the most poignant ones were the ones who stood in silence, with tears streaming down their faces. I myself clapped and screamed and marvelled that I lived to see this amazing occasion.
As President Obama delivered his Inauguration Address, it was exactly what we expected. Beautiful, strong, brave, somber and hopeful. It was what we needed at that time. As the cannons went off in the distance, the echo swept through the crowd. Never before had the 21 cannon salute been reserved for a black man. But today it was. It was at that moment that I knew we had witnessed history.
As we walked back, slowly, happy, coldly, and strongly with the crowd to the station, I could not help take in the moment. I was with people who had went to college with me. We all had our war stories from that time. But now I was here with them on a joyous occasion. I couldn't help but cry at the thought that I know I will never see a crowd of that magnitude, never see something so outstanding, never experience tears of joy of that magnitude again. Even getting on to the train and heading back to my friend's house I was stunned with how moved everyone around me was. It was as if they wanted to take the moment, bottle it, and sprinkle it around the world for everyone to share. To believe I almost didn't make it down to see this. I am so thankful I did. And even more thankful that I had a chance to experience it with some of my BC family. It was a moment that we all will cherish.
Yes we did!!