Technically, that’s not true, but it’s what crossed my mind as I entered the room to watch the Inauguration of President Obama, and I thought it would make a good title. I’ve believed for quite a few months now, probably since last spring or early summer. I believe something amazing happened last November, and I believe it’s going to take an amazing amount of work, patience – and yes, grace – for genuine change to take root. I believe it can, though.
I watched the Inauguration on Tuesday morning (well, it was morning in California) in the “multipurpose room” in the administrative building of the social-services agency where I work, surrounded by co-workers and clients. One of our major programs is a non-public high school for adolescent girls, and it seemed very important to give them the opportunity to witness this historic event. Seeing the reaction among our African-American students in particular made it look like setting up the TV feed was a very good decision.
The room was about three-fourths full when I came in, but I was still able to get a decent seat. Just a few minutes later, my state’s own senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, called the ceremonies to order.
There was a lot of controversy over the selection of Pastor (and best-selling author) Rick Warren to deliver the invocation because of some of his deeply conservative positions, but I thought he started out fine. However, it bears repeating that this is not officially a “Christian” nation – it is not officially of any religious persuasion – and the emphasis in Pastor Warren’s closing was clearly on those believers. The agency I work for has had strong ties to the Jewish community for almost a hundred years. The silence in the room at the end of the invocation was pretty loud.
But I didn’t notice any adverse reaction when the Queen of Soul took the stage. Aretha Franklin and her church-lady hat brought her gospel roots to the patriotic song we share with Great Britain (our words, their melody), and I loved it. Truthfully, for me, the two musical interludes – hers and the instrumental rendition of “Simple Gifts” (one of my favorite hymns anyway) by Itzhak Perlman on violin, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Gabriela Montero on piano, and Anthony McGill on clarinet – were the most moving parts of the ceremony.
The swearings-in should have been uneventful, but there was a word fumble at the beginning of the Presidential oath (the fault of the Chief Justice, according to what I read later). When the oath ended, though, the room I was in broke into applause and cheers, just as the crowd in Washington did.
Discussing the Inaugural speech with my son later, he said he thought it was “effective,” and I think that summed it up well. It wasn’t heavy on fancy rhetoric, but our new President said what needed to be said. He both tempered expectations and established them; he cautioned and he inspired. He recognized strength in diversity and responsibility, and the need for hard work and hard choices. He emphasized the basic, classic values that this country needs to return to in order to move forward – not “values” in the sense we’ve grown used to hearing them talked about by social conservatives, but as attributes of character:
“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true.”
His tone was appropriately serious, even somber, in light of the times in which he assumes office. However, as he has done so well for so many months, President Obama continued to stress that we’re all facing these challenges together, and that we can face them and overcome them – and he continues to make me believe it.
Our little audience cheered, and I think some of us would have gotten to our feet if we hadn’t been afraid we’d look silly giving a standing ovation to a projection TV screen. But Rev. Joseph Lowery’s benediction did indeed get some “Amens” out of our crowd, especially from the students.
We’ve met the new boss, and as far as we can tell, he’s nothing like the old boss. Change has come to America, and has now moved into the White House. But genuine, fundamental change won’t – and can’t, and shouldn’t – happen in a day, or a month, or maybe even a year or two. We will need time, and patience, and work. Time will tell how much we, and our country, truly believe in change, and truly can be changed.