I had a smile on my face the entire day yesterday. The entire day. I marveled at the sea of people on the Mall. Looking at the Lincoln Memorial, I pondered how far my country has come and how far it still has to go. I was filled with a strange joy watching Malia and Sasha and thinking how happy I’ll be to watch them grow up and smile over the next eight years. I chuckled at how the sight of Cheney in the wheelchair reminded me of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. That led me to think of the ways in which President Obama is strangely like George Bailey (stopping the run on the Savings & Loan, indeed). I smiled.
I was of course moved by Obama’s speech. Even if it wasn’t his finest, it was still a beautifully constructed, powerful statement of America’s democratic values and aspirations. I shouted “Amen” to the lines “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” and “Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.” If nothing else, I felt inspired that my president is a man who can thoughtfully craft his own Inauguration speech and deliver it with such power. I kept smiling, and cried a bit, too.
Walking around Hyde Park, I tapped into the electricity that continues to buzz through my neighborhood even after our First Neighbors have departed for somewhat warmer climes. I sat down with two retired black women and talked about what this day meant to them. I thrilled at the sight of Barack and Michelle walking down Pennsylvania Avenue. I still can’t get over how much I love the sight of them together. I teared up as I listened to Jesse Jackson talk about the significance of this day. I even sat around and watched Obama and Joe Biden watch the parade. What does it say about me that I was watching someone else watch? It means I didn’t want the day to end. I was still smiling.
Of course, the day eventually passed. But I woke up this morning to look at photos, to relive the awesome and historically transformative occasion. I read newspaper accounts from around the world and reveled in how America’s status has been reborn. I pinched myself and called to mind that the long nightmare of the last eight years is finally over. That thought alone will have me smiling for weeks.
A friend from Egypt has been in town the last few days, and I was trying to explain how the economic events of the last several months have not only created a horribly difficult situation; they’ve caused a crisis of confidence, a fear that borders on despair. But yesterday, whether it’s rational or not, that mood of fear seemed to be swept away. I’m enough of a realist to know that one man can’t make that much of a difference, no matter how much power he has. And the difficulties confronting President Obama are so immense I’m not entirely confident he’ll succeed. But I can think of few people I would rather have sitting in the Oval Office. The fact that he’s there today has put another smile on my face.