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A Family Attends the Obama Inauguration

I will not be able to do justice to our trip, but I will make a few notes here, since so many people have asked me to.

We left Angwin at 6:00 pm on Saturday, January 17 and we just got back to Angwin a little while ago (shortly before Midnight on Wednesday, January 21). The entire trip was even better than I had imagined it would be. The Lord provided, though several of his angels, unexpected access to several special opportunities, and in the end we also got tickets to standing room areas pretty close to the podium, so that really helped.

We got to DC Sunday afternoon (after some adventures caused by naive Californians trying to drive out of Manhattan down the New Jersey Turnpike in snow) just as the concert was starting. We decided not to give up on it, and May (my wife) and Josh (my son) dropped Sasha and Chloé (my daughters) and me off as close as she could drive the car (about K street) and we walked down to near the Lincoln Memorial. By the time we got there they were no longer letting anyone in, and it was half way over, but we were able to hear very clearly the remaining singers and speakers. It was exciting to hear Usher, Stevie Wonder, and Bono and Beyoncé (among others) but the highlight for me was Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen singing “This Land is Your Land” which literally took my breath way, and was the first of several episodes of the shedding of tears.

Monday morning we drove down to St Elizabeth’s, the oldest federal psychiatric hospital in the country. The Obama Inauguration page had a link to volunteer opportunities to participate in on MLK Day, and this one jumped out at me (my Abnormal Psychology class watched the classic documentary “The Asylum” about St E’s while I was away). It turned out the group organizing the even was a support group for gay and lesbian young people, and the Gay and Lesbian Band of America, which marched in the Inauguration Parade the next day, was there too. We spent the morning visiting and playing games with the patients, and watching the band march and play.

Monday night Sasha and Chloé went to a special Bi-Partisan Dinner held in honor of John McCain. McCain, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama all spoke there, and “The Girls” (as we call them) got to see them all up close, and had pictures taken with some of them.

Tuesday morning we got up at 5:15 in the morning and took the Metro train down to the Capital. Our angels got us tickets in three different locations, so we had to split up – but we were all much (much) closer than we would have been otherwise. Josh and I entered at the Blue Gate, which put us standing on the right side of the capital (as we were facing it). We could not easily see the podium, but I was staring right at the conductor of the Marine Band, and we were right in front of huge big screen TV. It was COLD (I can not believe people live like that on a regular basis) but we were dressed pretty well for it. The lines were very long and the crowd was packed very tight, but, unbelievably, everyone was in a good and joyful mood throughout. Everybody helped each other out, nobody could stop smiling. I have not seen the ceremony yet on TV (I recorded it on my TiVo to watch later) so I don’t know how it played at home, but the most moving moment was when Obama took the oath of office (more crying by most around me). Another very moving moment was when they put Teddy Kennedy on the Big Screen – everyone around me broke into a loud cheer. The funniest moment was probably when they put Joe Lieberman’s picture on the Big Screen – everyone let out a long, deep and enthusiastic boo. It was also deeply moving when they showed John Lewis.

We had several opportunities to join the crowd in rousing, primitive cheering of O-Ba-Ma! O-Ba-Ma! Almost everyone around me had participated actively in the campaign in some way or another, and it really felt like a family out there.

I thought Obama’s speech was stunning. What was striking about it from the crowd was how quiet everybody got. It was unbelievable how so many people could listen so carefully and do actively and so quietly. I would say the feeling during the speech itself was less emotional and more deeply thoughtful.

I will be interested to see what the reaction has been to Warren’s prayer. After all was said and done it seemed to be pretty much of a non-event. He did not say anything (from what I can tell, I have not had a chance to read it yet) that was offensive, and it seemed to go OK.

After it was over Josh and I walked around the other end of the Capital (we were going to meet the rest of our family at Union Station). We were surprised to see when we got to the other end that now former President and Laura Bush and now current President Obama were standing out there – waiving to a group of people in front of them. After a few minutes the Bush’s got into a helicopter and flew away – so Josh and I stumbled upon Bush’s farewell to Washington. I tried really hard to stay positive during the weekend. Being President is not an easy job, and not everything Bush did was horrible. But I could not help but silently mouth “good riddance” as his helicopter flew away.

Walking around the Capital after the speech was a chance to share in the joy and hope of the day with so many different people from so many different places. One of the unexpected highlights was when they put the marvelous crowd shots on the big screen, and the crowd recognized itself, and collectively sucked in its breath and said, almost as one “that’s us!”. It was kind of like those pictures of the earth they took from space and showed on TV when I was a kid. From the moment we arrived in New York City (where all 5 of the cars rented to the people in line ahead of me were to people driving to DC for the Inauguration) to the flight home to San Francisco (when people saw the hat I had bought that says “Barack Obama, 44th President, January 20, 2009 and shared their feelings about the event) there was such a wave of good feeling and common purpose and hope and identity. Obviously there will be plenty of time for division and disagreement and mistakes – but all weekend we were proud not just to be Americans, but to be part of a circle of common humanity that seemed to be expanding.

I am glad we went.


Aubyn Fulton is Professor of Psychology at Pacific Union College.

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