Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Beginnings

There aren't many events in this life that we, as a whole, can collectively share. Different from those experiences we can relate with each other as part of the common theme of living (a beloved sports team, Dead concerts, favorite cereal growing up); the things I'm talking about are so affecting that we can sit with a relative stranger and simply ask the question, "Where were you when...?"

Sadly, it seems that so many of these occasions are solemn, or frightening. In my limited days I can go back to the Challenger disaster, Katrina. For some of another generation it would be Pearl Harbor,the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Assasination of JFK and Martin Luther King. And of course, we now have 9-11.

We do have moments of united joy or pure excitement, relief, we do. The end of World War II. The landing of men on the moon. The Berlin Wall coming down.

And now we have this; for one moment in time the world watched as the first African American president was sworn into office. I heard reports of people dancing in Africa, in Indonesia. There were celebrations around the globe. Amazing. There was a report on NPR this afternoon where they played, for about a minute, the lead stories from a dozen different radio stations in all parts of the world. In a dozen different languages, the only two words recognizable were "Barack Obama." What a thing.

Where were you?

I happened to be starting a new job too (the President and I have at least that in common). I watched the festivites from an all-purpose room, really known as the Maverick Room, at Riverdale High School, home of the Mavericks.

I'm working for Four Seasons Flavor Catering Company; where one of their gigs is to provide the lunches for three Portland schools. It's a great job for me, I love cooking and I especially love cooking for kids, so I'm excited about this.

And what a way to start a new gig. Everything was abuzz this morning. The Maverick room is where the kids eat lunch, so it's just off the kitchen. Right around 8:45 the room started filling up with kids and teachers; the projector had been set to fill up the big screen with a live feed from CNN. The kids seemed excited, and not just because they were getting out of class. Some wore Barack Obama T-shirts. Some of the young guys were actually sporting button-down shirts and ties. When the inaugeration started rolling, they were actually rapt; some were taking pictures with their phones, but they were watching. There wasn't even much talking or jostling; and when Diane Feinstein announced the Chief Justice and asked everyone to stand, the kids did so too. Without prompting.

And when Barack Obama was sworn in, and the announcement made they cheered and clapped for a good minute. It was beautiful. And I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

I know of two people that were in D.C. Both friends from the walk. Antonio was there, who I know from Portland; and Kathleen, the nut, left her home in upstate New York yesterday afternoon and was texting me from the Mall this morning.

There will be all kinds of people who will probably say they were there in D.C. for that event. With over two million people reportedly swelling the city, it's more than likely folks will be stretching the truth in that direction for years.

But I don't know why anyone would need to lie about where they were today. We were all there. I thought of my friends in Germany, the cheesemakers, who I know were thinking of me; my friends in Japan, Australia and Spain. They were there too.

This was a day of bounty and grace because a dream was realized today; and hope has materialized from what had been a great dearth of it.

It is impossible to not be excited at the possibilities of such an accomplishment. And not just for one man, representing a race; but for the representation of accomplishment for a people. All people. It's a bit daunting, and I'm not naive about the truth underneath such pedestals. But today, an incredible aspiration has been realized...and I'm just grateful I was there to see it.

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