If only I could have been a fly on the mind of every former President, Vice President and First Lady walking the carpet (plank?) at the inauguration. Watching the stream of adversaries-turned polite politicians was about as fascinating as it gets.
To see Bush near Bill, Hillary near Biden and Barack after Jill Biden’s slip,to watch Nancy, and Cheney, Gore and Laura all squeeze into their polite spaces, was almost surreal.
All these politician permutations were however, merely the audience appetizer. The real meal was to watch the civility, genuine I believe, between Barack and Bush, and Michelle and Laura as they walked towards Formula One and exchanged a few words.
A few commentators mentioned how amazing it was that these men were so civil, almost warm to each other despite years of being in opposite, and at times, bloody corners. This shouldn’t be surprising. The entire world is watching, both men are known to be decent, no matter what you feel about their political agendas.
But more, the enormity of the moment is enough to strip away old wounds and hurt egos. It’s not likely either would symbolically pull their hand back as if to say “psyche!” The world is at attention, hoping, waiting, watching grace in action.
This is what United States politics is. This is what Americans do. We are our worst during the campaign, during the dog fights. We are our best at our polar opposites: during crisis and ceremonies. Inaugurations are the grand goose-bump moments, when it’s easy to feel good and to act good.
But what counts is when the real work starts, when the honeymoon is over. When the job begins in the Oval office, ripping off the surface glow to reveal if such a mixed, powerful and ego-filled Cabinet can find their own permanent grace and civility.
This inaugural pomp and circumstance is vital to circulate our proud American blood. It builds hope; it softens despair, it stirs hearts, sometimes towards radical change. But when the pomp and circumstance fades, reality pulls up a moving van, the smiles fade, the the carpet is rolled up, the cheers turn somber.
It is then we must realize there is no left or right, Republican or Democrat. “We the people” can’t look to Obama as our savior, nor can we hold stubborn to the notion that “boot strap pulling” is so easy and available to every single willing American.
“Yes we can,” means all of us who can, must, and all of who want to but falter feel the embrace of compassion from a renewed nation.
Ceremony or crisis, tragedy or triumph, the real work of Americans lies daily between our polar opposites, between what feels the best and what hurts the most.
Our world’s work and our own individual change is hard, it can be mundane, without song, confetti, poems or debates. Positive change comes from changing how we think, from shifting our daily habits and expectations until one day great things come, from millions of small things done.