ENID, Okla. —
I was supposed to be working Monday, Inauguration Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but an intestinal bug had different ideas.
So I found myself at home, camped in front of the television, watching America’s 57th presidential inauguration from start to finish.
It was a bit like watching a baseball game, as it featured scattered moments of action and excitement bracketed by long periods of abject boredom.
It didn’t have the same gravitas as those inaugurations when one president takes over from another. At those times, the seamless transfer of power in the most powerful nation on earth is an awe-inspiring thing.
But with second terms, the only unknown generating much buzz is what the first lady will be wearing.
And this one was even less suspenseful, since the actual inauguration took place Sunday, the date prescribed by the Constitution.
But the whole affair was interesting, and besides, it beat normal weekday TV fare.
The ceremony went off without a hitch, with inspiring music (the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was especially stirring), despite the fact Beyonce now admits lip-synching her solid rendition of the national anthem.
The president’s speech was not the type future generations will grow up memorizing stanzas from, but it did present his vision for his second term.
One memorable moment occurred after the ceremony had ended, as the president ascended the steps from the podium into the Capitol. He stopped, turned back and said “I want to take a look one more time, I’ll never see this again.”
Indeed he won’t. All those people, an estimated crowd of a million people, were there for him. The next time he attends an inauguration, it will be for someone else.
Then it was on to lunch, and some of the scenes broadcast from the Capitol Rotunda and inside Statuary Hall, where the luncheon was held, were fascinating. There was Bill Clinton talking to Eric Cantor, House majority leader, as well as Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn chatting with Clinton and the president chatting with House Speaker John Boehner. And those from both sides of the aisle schmoozed with Supreme Court justices and cabinet officials. Fittingly, the luncheon closed with a benediction delivered by a Greek Orthodox archbishop.
During the slow parade of vehicles transporting the president and vice president back to the White House prior to the parade, the Obamas and Bidens walked for a couple of stretches, getting a little face time with the gathered multitudes.
Then came the parade, during which the president chomped nicotine gum (apparently still struggling with his tobacco habit) mugged for his daughters’ cellphone photos and greeted marchers with waves, salutes and, for those from his home state of Hawaii, the “Shaka” greeting, given with an extended thumb and little finger and the other three fingers curled.
And somewhere during the course of the day it hit me — I was watching America.
You could see America in the faces of those gathered on the National Mall, though most had to watch the proceedings on huge TV screens scattered about. The faces were young, old, male female, and came in every hue. Some wore stocking caps bearing Barack Obama’s name, some wore ball caps, and some yarmulkes, while others sported Muslim head coverings.
The parade was equally eclectic, with musical groups ranging from military units and college bands to one from St. Louis made up entirely of gays and lesbians.
There were native and Hispanic groups marching, high school bands, college bands and a group of military spouses from Michigan.
During NBC’s coverage, they occasionally put tweets up on the screen, one of which read, “Watching the inauguration wishing it was Mitt Romney being sworn in.”
Different faces, different ideas, different views, different people, but one nation. That’s what Monday’s inauguration drove home to me.
We don’t have to agree on everything. It is healthier that we don’t, in fact. Nobody on this side of heaven has all the answers.
As long as our disagreements and our discourse about same are civil, they work as the slight tearing of muscle when we exercise or lift weights. There is some pain involved, but in the end, we become stronger.
During the inauguration ceremony, poet Richard Blanco read his work “One Today.”
One today, indeed, in fact Americans are one every day, despite our differences. Not one face, or one mind, to be sure, but one heart, definitely, beating to the rhythm of liberty and the stubborn determination to not allow ourselves to be subjugated to a power that would govern us without our consent.
Watching America on display in all its disparate, diverse, dysfunctional glory for one day, was almost worth the temporary intestinal upset.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.