Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day: Walking Forward

On this Inauguration Day, there were so many smiles, so many tears shed, such an outpouring of hope. We rejoiced with hundreds of others in our local independent movie theater, watching a live video feed of the day's proceedings on the silver screen.

Even as the naysayers begin to rev the engines of opposition, I am simply stunned that an African American man of such stature and eloquence now holds this most powerful office. And a beautiful African American family now begins their residence in the White House on this very evening, two young star-struck schoolgirls tucked into unfamiliar beds, perhaps only realizing how their lives have truly changed.

Personally, I am ready to give what I can, to volunteer my time, to share my thoughts, and to sacrifice when sacrifice is needed. It is an ebullient time, a hopeful time, and a time of tremulousness and uncertainty. I have frequently volunteered throughout my adult life, and will certainly volunteer more if I am called and inspired to do so. No matter the doubts that some of us may have about whether the wrongs can be righted and the crooked made straight. This is an unmistakable moment of opportunity for the entire world, and I am certain that this opportunity will not be squandered.

As a writer, I was moved by the poem written and read by Elizabeth Alexander this afternoon, a poem that celebrated the mundane even while it exalted the highest power of love. I am moved to share a transcript of that poem here with you, and to leave you with the notion that, no matter your political persuasion or civic affiliation, there is much to praise on this day, and much room for hope tomorrow.

Praise Song for the Day, by Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.



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