Washington, DC is my family’s hometown, so we didn’t make elaborate Inauguration plans in advance. The days leading up to January 20 looked typically crazy. We had basketball practices, a book party, an ice skating lesson, play dates, work deadlines. My husband had a business trip on Inauguration Day – which strikes me as unfair, if not unpatriotic. So we decided to celebrate Barack Obama’s historic presidency by going together as a family to Sunday’s free Inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial about two miles from our home.
Normally it would take about 20 minutes to get to the monument by the Potomac River across from Arlington Cemetery. With two million friends in town, it took an hour and a half for my husband, myself, our 11 year old, ten year old, and six year old to walk through the cold streets under an overcast winter sky, holding hands in a five-person lifeline the entire way.
As we got close to downtown, the crowds – the happiest crowds I’ve ever seen – thickened. We heard John Mellencamp singing “Ain’t That America.” Then U2. Then Usher. Stevie Wonder. Shakira. Garth Brooks. (We had missed Bruce.) The joy in the singers’ voices was palable – even via Jumbotron. Then came a slew of stirring speakers: Forrest Whitaker, Jack Black, Samuel L. Jackson, and of course President-Elect Obama himself. Beyonce closed out the afternoon with a haunting version of “America the Beautiful.”
Washington is usually quiet (people from New York call it dull) but our city on Sunday felt like Christmas in January. Everyone thronging the Mall was smiling. My guess is that more than 75% of the audience and the performers were African-American. It felt appropriate for us to be minorities for once. Peace on earth seemed possible.
On our walk home, we took a shortcut away from the masses, past the State Department where Hillary takes office this week. In front of the impressive front entrance and colossal American flag, a family posed for a picture. I asked the dad if he’d like us to take one of all of them. His family was just like mine – husband, wife, three smiling kids – except for their skin color. They were from Los Angeles, they explained. They just had to be here to celebrate. My husband and I took their two cameras and snapped four pictures of their grinning faces. After we handed back the cameras, the Mr. and Mrs. slowly, thoughtfully shook our hands and we all smiled at each other. As he let go of my hand, the father said, “It’s a beautiful day.” It was.