Friday, January 23, 2009

Onto the Hill

...our stumbling, meandering  route from the train station led us around the White House.  We were startled to come across the portico of the White House only a few yards away from us during out trek up 14th Street.  There it was, awaiting its newest tenant.

With the tip of the Washington Monument always in our sight, we were led to the base of the hill upon which it was built,  The first President; and now the 44th.

  The grass was brown and straw-like in its winter hibernation, yet it seemed welcoming to our pavement-worn feet.  The sun was approaching its zenith on this mid-January day, and its rays bathed and soothed our frozen faces. 

We were able to walk quite close to the monument as this area seemed to be the last to be populated.  My mind flashed to the historic land rush in the West when the pioneers staked their claims to the free lands before them. A Jumbotron was positioned nicely to the left of the Capitol and our small party at last stopped to stake out our vantage point.  I looked back and saw tens of hundreds more folks now pouring like ants onto the grassy knoll. It was a good place to be, surrounded by others who were similarly determined to witness history.

The mood was joyous but not overly verbose. People chatted quietly with others, often asking where they began their journey.  Some children, not yet mature enough to sense the importance of the moment, were pushing playfully with each other until their mother stepped in to settle them.  We stood next to a Swede with ruddy and full-bearded face who was peering through a brass eye glass.  He and his wife brought small folding chairs which remained unused.  They had flown from LA to witness this historic moment.  Most people stood statue-like, facing the giant screen, awaiting their first glimpse of the President-elect and his family.

A roar went up as Bill and Hilary marched in and another as Joe and Jill Biden's smiling faces appeared on the screen. Boos arose as the camera found George Bush.  More cheers as other faces glided on and off of the Jumbotron.  Then, as Dick Cheney came rolling on in his wheelchair, real disgust was heard everywhere, which quickly changed to laughter as the sight of the man, tucked under a blanket in a wheel chair, struck the crowd as an ironically fitting end to his reign of terror on this nation.  

Hoots, hollers, and cheers erupted as Michelle and Barack Obama appeared, walking towards their appointed places on the stage. This is what these millions had come for.  The man was about to become the President on this cold and sunny Tuesday. The sound from the speakers was slower reaching us than the picture, as your science teacher surely explained, which created a most intriguing effect: we heard erupting cheering from the Capitol side of the mall which was out of sync with what our giant screen displayed.

As Chief Justice Roberts rose to administer the Oath of Office, the mass of people became perfectly silent; it was a sacred moment.  Then, as the words, " help me God." flowed from President Obama's lips, a roar like a freight train pierced the silence, which carried on for several wonderful minutes.  At last.

My thoughts turned to the many black people surrounding me.  What were they experiencing at this moment?  And of Gladys Gaines, the 81-year-old black woman from Flint, Michigan who sat next to my wife on the train this morning.  Born in 1928 into a segregated nation, barely 8 years after women won the right to vote, today she witnessed one from her race raised up to the presidency of this nation.  Although standing on a mere hill, Gladys has been to the mountain top.

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