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45 Hours to Inauguration

January 18, 2009

It’s 45 hours to Inauguration.

And I’m standing with some of my friends and more than half a million of my fellow Americans.

We’ve arrived too late to get anywhere near the Lincoln Memorial or the Reflecting Pool. The sea of humanity is just too large. But we’ve arrived in time to hear the concert. I’m standing near the Washington Monument which rises on a big hill on the other side of the Mall. I can see the Lincoln Memorial with a sea of people in front but can’t catch what’s going on on stage. That’s OK for me at least. I can hear and watch the entire thing on Jumbotrons, although the people under about 5’4 can’t see a single thing. Lots of muttering about benefits of being tall.

The crowd is having a good time. Lots of African-American faces. Lots of young faces. But there are people white, black, latino, and asian. Young and old. Babies and people in their 80’s and everyone inbetween. We are dancing and singing and laughing and telling jokes. We are all struggling to see but there is little jostling. “Where are you from?” everyone asks. California, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Massachusetts, Chicago, Washington State, and “round here,” are just some of the answers I remember. The crowd chants “O-BA-MA” from time to time but it feels more like July 4th than any political rally. Lots of flags and children hoisted on shoulders for better views. Young couples. Murmurs from the crowd, “Who’s that? Who’s that?” Those of us that can see the Jumbotrons with the names underneath the artists announce. “That’s Jennifer Nettles or Josh Groban.” I take pictures and show them to some of the shorter women in the crowd. For some folks, no one needs to ask: Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks. The Obamas are certainly having a good time.

I’ve lived in the Washington Metropolitan Area for 8 years now. I’ve never seen a crowd this large. Hope for change was palpable. I saw little animosity towards the Bush Administration, no angry crowds, and not a single protest sign. Just hope — fervent hope — you could touch it. People were happy but there was a touch of melancholy too. Just a bare whisp. Almost as if people were thinking, but not saying:

“We’ve put our last best hopes in you, Obama. Our hopes, fears, and lives rest on your shoulders. We trust you. We love you. But for God’s sake, don’t let us down.”

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