This I Believe

George - Meadville, Pennsylvania
Entered on January 21, 2009

Herculean Effort

Why did I go? Every rational thought persuaded me to stay home, to watch Barack Obama’s Inauguration in the warmth of my home, on my 50-inch plasma television, with the comfort of a good lunch and the company of my two cats.

Why did I allow myself to be crowded into a state-of-some-much-earlier-art bus, for an eight-hour bus ride through a freezing January night to arrive before six a.m. and stand on the mall for another six hours, constantly conscripted — despite my highly enhanced sense of “personal space”– to transfer the wave-effect of some one million other people all jostling for the position, in sub-freezing temperatures, which forced me at one point to resort to squeezing toe-warmer packages inside my turtleneck? The cherry on this frozen cake occurred when President Obama quoted a passage from Tom Paine’s essay “The Crisis” which General Washington ordered to be read to the troops at Valley Forge:

Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].

Despite my desperation toewarmer move, I can tell you that I heard these words literally from Valley Forge. I was that cold.

Despite the reasons encouraging me to stay put, I kept hearing “go.” This was an historic event. This was an opportunity to be part of history. But I only decided to go when I realized that this was a chance to not be the me I’ve been for as long as I can remember, to undertake a journey from my place of social advantage to where things happened on a completely different plane, even if that journey required a Herculean Effort — perhaps only if it did require a Herculean Effort — because only then might I shed some of my complacency and experience life unmediated.

The Inaugural event was highly mediated, of course. While we waited, we watch a taped version of the Inaugural Concert on a huge digital screen which also allowed us to view and hear the oaths of office and President Obama’s Inaugural Address. What was not mediated was the sense of being there, yes, the sense of fatigue and discomfort, but also the sense of so many people absorbing with me the thunderous roar that rose out of the crowd when President Obama was sworn in. The vibration of that roar deafened the ear but also awakened the heart to feel what it means to be one with others.

Going to the inauguration, being present to hear President Obama say, “With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come,” I knew it mattered that I “brave[d] once more the icy currents” and that in so doing I would be more inclined to brave again in other ways – ways, I believe, for which the Inauguration is a harbinger.