Saturday, January 31, 2009

Martha and I arrived at Dulles airport late Sunday evening, January 18th ... .

The flight was pleasant -- the plane filled with Californians flying in for the Inauguration. At landing, the pilot sent back a message over the PA system welcoming us to Washington and the great event. A general round of applause went up from throughout the plane. We were all on a mission!

We had the evening to settle into our little apartment and a full day before the historic ceremony. On Monday we rose early expecting to preview tomorrow. I layered on "smart" wool long johns with a specially-insulated long-sleeved top, added a black cashmere turtleneck sweater then the down inner-lining that zipped up inside my green trench coat, plus black wool scarf, plus ear-warming woolen head band topped by a pure wool beret and wool-lined leather gloves. I was ready for whatever lay ahead. We took off to brave frigid 17 degree weather for the 4 mile walk toward the Capitol Mall. We would visit museums and galleries -- all new for me. Martha had spent considerable time in and out of Washington recently, and had lived there for a time while doing a 3-month detail for the NPS. In the bitter cold, that day, we walked the entire length of the Capitol Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Having her as guide removed all signs of fear at being in a strange city among greats crowds of humanity (I'm seriously claustrophobic). Anticipation pushed all of those distractions away. Being phobic just wasn't an option. Not this day.

During the walk I was able to put names on many familiar Greek-columned federal buildings that gave a majestic feel to our walk. Martha provided identification for the rest. We were taking the time to scope out where we would be sitting/standing tomorrow; where the security stations were; to marvel at the thousands of PortaPotties that were standing in wait (all locked tightly to prevent folks from sleeping in them overnight, we were told). We would learn on Tuesday that many had camped out in the cold the night before, and that tens of thousands had arrived on the Mall by 5:30 Tuesday morning.

Learned from the PR staff at National Park Service Headquarters on the day after the Inauguration that the crowd was estimated to be the largest in Washington, D.C.'s history. The next largest being at the gathering on the Mall of the Promise Keepers some years ago. Though the official count published by the Washington Post and accepted by the NPS was 1.8 million, the actual count had to be far higher since tens of thousands never made it onto the Mall to be counted. Martha would be among them since her standing-room space (purple ticket) never made it at all (along with many others including many legislative aides and campaign workers who'd given two years of their lives to see this day). But that's a sad story for another day.

On day two we visited the World War II Memorial and made the discovery of the bas relief that are relevant to the homefront story. By prearrangement we were able to have an NPS guide who filled in much information that was new and which made the visit really memorable.We stopped in to hear a presentation by a trio of African American gospel singers singing songs of liberation at the Museum of American History. I was struck by the huge numbers of young people (teens) among the listening crowd. There was also something intangible but nonetheless clearly evident in the fact that half the visitors to these museums were African Americans from everywhere who would never before have explored these important resources with the new sense of ownership that was now clearly theirs. Whole families were wide-eyed and actively involved in "our" nation's history. In the near future we should anticipate a huge increase in visitation at the country's historic sites and that bodes well for us all. Education will finally hold real relevance to ordinary young children of color. There is now the feeling that -- after a long and painful past -- America's promise has finally been kept. I remember silently hoping as I watched eager young faces -- that the warmth I was experiencing in those moments could be radiating from here out into world ... .

On the Mall were elaborate "encampments" for the news media. It was interesting to note that the largest crowds were gathered 'roun the MSNBC facilility. ABC has a similar arrangement but at that time there was no program in progress and it appeared deserted. Watched for a few minutes when Andrea Mitchell was anchoring a roundtable featuring prominent African American leaders. It was fun to see Usher ( teen idol) for the young who crowded around the trailer that was serving as a Green Room. They were obviously hoping for autographs. It was one of those times when I felt old and irrelevant because I no longer am able to spot current celebrities and am still haunted by the face of an older gray-haired man that I was sure was someone important but I simply could not put a name to. I might have lined up for his autograph had I been able to call it up from memory ... .

After watching for a few moments we proceeded past those gathered around one of the many JumboTrons where re-runs of the Sunday Dr. King concert were being viewed. I was captivated for a time by the giant image of Marian Anderson singing "America" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial long ago. I stopped for a few minutes to watch and listen. Almost dissolved into tears but the feeling was fleeting. The coming together of so much history was overwhelming. Disorienting. Surreal. Found myself wishing I'd picked up one of those little flags from one of the many vendors along the way ... or that I'd at least have worn the little lapel flag pin that was still sealed in its little plastic bag, in my jewelry box back home.

It's all so different now; as if the world has shifted noticeably under our feet and that a total re-balancing is in process.

I was beginning to understand about "patriotism" in ways previously unknown to me. It is love of country from the inside.

Bottom right photo: Taken at the Lincoln Memorial where my friend, Ranger Kawther Elmi, ( we met at Albright Training Center at the Grand Canyon in February) gave us a grand tour. The Washington Monument in the background stands at the head of the reflecting pool that was frozen over.

No comments: