Sunday, January 18, 2009

Barack Obama's Inauguration & America's Phoenix Moment

I just realized it.

I'm witnessing America's Phoenix Moment.

As it happens, that Bald Eagle's a peculiar bird, indeed.

It's an odd thing to wake up and realize you had your country wrong all along. I'd become quite accustomed to the notion of a cynical, divided nation too far gone to enjoy the innocent, unifying revelry that's characterized the national experience in recent days. I thought I knew who Americans were.

I was wrong.

I'm still a young woman, but I've never witnessed my nation come together as it has in celebration of the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama. And despite my tendency toward conservative expectations, I can't ignore the image of America shaking the ashes from her feet.

After an explosive 2-year push for the White House and a political convention that became the hottest ticket of the year, no one should be surprised to see Barack Obama throw a larger-than-life Inauguration celebration launched from the rear platform of an Amtrak train. But we shouldn't forget that, despite its sustained level of modern street cred and "flava", the festivities have unfolded like something out of a past era - and something out of one just being born.

For me, the energy of America's phoenix moment has been most palpable in the trembling voices, text messages, and twitters of more than 25 personal friends who have made what those in my community have christened "The Pilgrimage to the Capital". In so many ways, it is a return to hallowed ground - a chance to hear the echoes of a King, and those of too many matyrs - in the strains of a young President's voice.

For many of them, it truly has been a journey of faith. Lack of funds, lodging, tickets - all seemed trivial in the quest to witness a twinkling moment in America's steady ascendancy from the pyre of it's murky past.

Today, I watched snippets of the We Are One Obama Inaugural Celebration in a half-hearted attempt to find some of those friends among the crowd. As I did, I had to chuckle at the notion that our next president managed to get half a million folks together, along with the millions who will watch that single event from their homes, for what amounted to a very high profile, bling-tastic, patriotic school assembly.

And wow. We all seemed happy to be there. I even shed some tears over Renee Fleming's breathtaking rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone".

And there it was. Despite our "too cool for school" blase image, and the recurrent messages about our "apathy", the prospect of Obama's presidency is awakening in the American spirit the desire to be a part of a greater national community. And I'll admit it: I didn't think such a thing existed.

If I sit still long enough, it's almost as if I can hear the sigh rising - like bottled heat raising above the frost now bearing down around us.

Finally, a President who reminds us of our commonality, instead of urging us toward base separatism. Finally, a President who'd rather see us serve - and urges us to do so - than to see us shopping. Finally, a President whose pragmatism outweighs his pride.

On Tuesday, January 21, Barack H. Obama will become the 44th President of the United States of America. And as so many in the nation pause to celebrate, we'll commemorate, with renewed gratitude, the life of Dr. King. We'll rejoice in the restoration of the democratic spirit in America. We'll revel in the overdue departure of George W. Bush.

And gradually, if we're willing to put put our labor, our advocacy, our activism where our hearts and hopes are. . . if we're willing to fight our way back into the political process and hold our ground. . . if we're willing to lovingly, and with good faith, hold President Obama's feet to a well-stoked fire. . .

We may just be able to live out the promise of our rebirth, put our new wings to good use, and soar to heights we'd once dared to Dream of.

Yes, we can.

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