I wasn’t one of the estimated two million people standing in freezing temperatures in Washington D.C.today. I was one of the millions though, who were lucky enough to watch on tv our 44th President of the United States be sworn in and all the hoopla surrounding it.
There were many times during the many hours I watched and thought what does this all mean? Where are we in history and what significance does this moment hold in the overall picture?
I wondered if all those people standing on the mall in 1963 watching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak knew what they were seeing or where they just caught up in the moment? Did they know 45 years later that dream would come true in so many ways and this country would be changed forever?
The history of the moment did not pass me by and I began to ask more introspective questions of what it meant to me. Did I realize the importance of this day or was I just caught up in the pomp and circumstance?
I smiled because I love history and I like to think I have a pretty good handle on it. When I don’t, I make it a point to learn something I didn’t. I knew what I watched today was more than just this day and would go on for so many more years.
The hours went by and I watched so many people looking to one individual for the answers and as I listened to reporters relating their experiences with him I felt more at ease. This was a man over a year ago whose biggest worry was not losing himself in the office and forgetting what had kept him grounded all those years.
He had worked his way up from the bottom and earned everything he was given. Community organizer called to him because he wanted to give back to the community which had given to him. He passed up major dollars to make a difference and I took remembrance of that.
This man won’t change everything in the world, but I felt he is the lightning rod to feed the hopes of so many, much like King and Kennedy did during the ’60s.
I thought back to an argumentative debate, one of many, I had with my father. He was going on and on how his generation had changed this country and how “we” (meaning my generation) had it better because of it. I angrily snapped back and told him yes they did start to create change and we did owe them a lot but they got complacent and stopped. I said, “You lost King and Kennedy and then another Kennedy, Malcolm and then you realized the loss and became complacent. You stopped and got your jobs and when the war was over the movement slowed to a snails pace. You had your homes and started families and this country got lazy.”
On and on it went and I explained to him how my generation lost, in that complacency, an example of how to make change in the mean time. My friends went off to war and came back changed just like his. This idea of helping your neighbor got lost as the “yuppies” cared for the I in the ’80s. The dollar was king and having your piece of the American pie was all that mattered.
When I helped run a homeless shelter for almost 5 years, I saw many people coming to volunteer who had this feeling of “having to” and sometimes not “wanting to.” It was almost as if there was this guilt they had so much and felt it would help them to give back. I never had anything but a smile for them because any volunteer was always welcome.
Today, I hoped so many more would “want to” and do something about it. Just like JFK who challenged Americans to not ask what can the country do for you, today Obama made the call to action for what you can do for you country.
Some people will feel overwhelmed like they have nothing to offer. Having worked in the social sector, I can assure you, everyone has something to offer. Many turn away because they have little money to donate. Give an hour or your time. Some will say they don’t have the time. Go through your clothes you have in your closet with a tag and give them to charity. Maybe you don’t have the time or the clothes to donate. Support the person who does with a cup of coffee or a thank-you card letting them know you appreciate their helping. The basic point- do what you can.
I was glad to see our new president and his renewal of that idea. Too many people want to turn away. I commented on Jane’s blog about her not being at Woodstock and how I was able to see one of the musicians who perfomed there many years later. In a small one hundred seat theater I watched this man (Richie Havens) with an accoustic guitar silently continue the message of those years with his music. In his last song he put down his guitar next to the single stool and stood in the single spot light.
On a small wooden stage raising his arms and using only his voice with no mic, he sang the Pink Floyd song On the Turning Away,
“On the turning away From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say Which we wont understand
Dont accept that whats happening Is just a case of others suffering
Or youll find that youre joining in The turning away…
…No more turning away From the weak and the weary
No more turning away From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share Its not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that therell be No more turning away?
I was in college when I saw that man sing that song and I remembered how powerful it was and what it meant. Today I felt that same power and can no longer join in the turning away.
I watched as he smiled and I couldn’t help but smile along with Obama. So Mr. Obama if I ever run into you in this lifetime ,I’d like to buy you a beer. In the meantime keep fighting the good fight and hopefully more than a few people take the call to action to heart and start with themselves in being a positive.