After braving the early morning crowds in Washington’s subway system and at its security checkpoints, our 15-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter and I plopped down on a grassy hill adjacent to the Mall to await the inauguration of President Obama. Our too-good-to-be-true view of the Capitol turned out to be … yep, too good to be true.
The nearest Jumbotron sat at an angle that made it almost impossible to see anything on the screen. Even more disappointing, we were sitting so far away from the speakers that we could hardly make out a single word in the announcements to the million and a half people packed onto the Mall like sardines.
As our two kids passed the cold and blustery late morning hours snacking on Twizzlers and browsing through the Washington Post, I knew exactly what they were thinking: We drove all the way from Chapel Hill to be a part of history and we’re not even going to see or hear the oath of office or the Inaugural address?
As with everything Obama, hope springs eternal. Just a few minutes into the Inaugural address, a woman standing nearby phoned her brother living in Los Angeles and asked that he hold his cell phone up to his television set so that she could hear the president’s first words to the nation over her cell phone. Then she turned on the speaker phone so others could hear Obama’s address, too, and a small group — of mixed race and age, traveling from Maryland, South Carolina, Vermont and as far away as England — began huddling around her.
With some of us bent at the knees so that all of us could be within earshot, we formed an intimate circle within a sea of strangers. Together we clung to each and every word from the speaker phone, interrupting President Obama’s voice only to whisper an occasional “Yes” or “Uh-huh” or “Amen.” Two others approached, a young boy covered from head to toe in camouflage and an elderly gentleman dapperly dressed in a heavy winter coat and hat. Our diverse circle opened, welcomed, lengthened and again closed ranks around the woman in the middle holding her cell phone.
After the applause from Obama’s address faded, we each introduced ourselves and laughed about the wonders and ironies of technology: The same voice we could not hear from just hundreds of yards away we could hear from 3,000 miles away.
We are reminded time and time again that it is a small world, made stronger and better during those moments we stand together on common ground.
On Wednesday after President Obama’s inauguration, my husband, a World War II veteran, came out of the Cameron Village Library in Raleigh. He passed a young black man sitting on a nearby bench eating his lunch. As my husband walked past him, the young man greeted him with, “Hello, Brother.”
This was to us a small gesture with much greater meaning during this moment full of promise for the United States, and a paradigm shift for all of us.