regardless of their politics or party affiliations, could not help but be stirred
this week by the pomp and grandeur and beauty of the inauguration of our new president.
Millions waited for noon to strike in Washington, poised to be, each in his own
way, a part of history; whether they were standing in the sunny cold, necks craned
up toward the giant screens or whether they sat with eyes on the television while
they had their lunch or whether they tuned the radio in the cab of their truck
to the news station. We waited for noon and we fixed ourselves in time and place
knowing that we would return to this day in stories for our grandchildren, stories
about where we were and what we were doing. We Americans were united on Tuesday
in a way we have not been for years and decades, a way that many of us have not
been in our lives. We were united in patriotism, united in pride, but most of
all, best of all, united in hope.
nation and our President face a future which does not seem clear to us. These
are uncertain times not only in our own country, but for all humanity, all the
world. It is becoming clearer and more certain that Man cannot continue in any
of the old ways and hope to survive to the distant future. We cannot continue
to use the Earth as we have always used it, taking all we need and more than we
need, and leaving what is left stripped and poisoned and desolate.
cannot continue to kill each other, starve each other, hate each other. We cannot,
as a species, continue to tolerate violence and terror and destruction, and hope
to survive. It has not worked out so well for us to hate each other for differences
in religion or color or language in the past. Maybe it’s time for us to learn
from that. Surely if people like Caligula or Hitler or Idi Amin were here for
any purpose, it was to show us the futility of hate.
It is time to realize,
time to acknowledge that we are all just the same, we are all just human. It is
time, and past time, to, "do unto others. . . ." It is time, and past time, for
us to acknowledge that we all want the same things in this life; we want useful
work, enough to eat, a decent place to raise and educate our children, freedom
to worship. We cannot justify dumping milk into the oceans and paying for fields
to lay fallow when there is even one child still hungry. We, as a species, cannot
tolerate violence, slavery, subjugation. It is time, it is past time, for Man,
as a species, to decide to do better than we have done so far.
be ridiculous to think that one man, one new president, could effect all this
change and I am not suggesting that he could, nor that one nation, any nation,
could. But I am suddenly and for the first time in my life filled with optimism
for the future. Maybe it is time for a change. Maybe we are ready to change. And
maybe the rest of the world, or much of it, is ready too. Maybe that is not too
much to hope.
There have been four inaugurations in our country’s history
at which an inaugural poem was presented. I was interested, as I read them, to
note that three of the four had a common theme. Not so unusual, each being read
to commemorate the same type of ceremony. But the theme they had in common was
not, as might be expected, the glory and power of the United States. The theme
was hope for the future, for a better future. At President Clinton’s inauguration
in 1993 Maya Angelou read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning": "Lift up your eyes
upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream." In 1997 Miller
Williams read, again for President Clinton, his poem "Of History and Hope": "We
know what we have done and what we have said and how we have grown, degree by
slow degree, believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become – just and
companionate, equal, able, free."
This year Elizabeth Alexander read her
work "Praise Song for Morning," in which she wrote: "In today’s sharp sparkle,
this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun, On the brink, on the
brim, on the cusp, praise song for walking forward in that light."
is an exciting time for our country. New beginnings are always exciting. It is
a fine thing to live in a country where we have the privilege to vote for our
leaders. It is a fine thing to think that there may be a better future ahead of
us. And it would be a fine thing too, to think that our leaders might listen to
our poets, might heed their advise, might walk "forward in that light."
© Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Girl Detective's Theory of Everything"
January 25, 2009 Column
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