Attending the presidential inauguration was a little like getting a tattoo: the pain was temporary and the memory lasts a lifetime. I was awake for 32 hours, on my feet in 20-degree temperatures for 12 hours, and I’m thinking I may regain the full use of my legs by sometime early next week.
So was it worth it? In a word, yes.
The students were fantastic. The student organizers of the trip made all the right calls and everything went incredibly smoothly. The crowds were intense but happy and helpful, despite many snafus and lapses in communication on the part of the DC authorities. Crowds of thousands spent many hours milling around, looking for streets that did not end in barricades and entrances that were actually open.
By the time I actually made it to the National Mall, there were no University students or staff to be seen (most of the other staff reported the same thing; the students did a good job ditching the old folks). I was on my own in a crowd of over a million people.
I staked out a nice spot under the second Jumbotron, with a view of the Capitol building on the left. No one was sitting; there was no where to sit. It was only 8 am.
Over the next three hours, a little feeling of camaraderie was struck up amongst the people in my little section. A tall hippie guy with a white ponytail had lost his busload of students from Western Massachusetts and was hanging out on his own, reaching above the crowd with his long hippie arms to take pictures with other people’s cameras. People were sharing their snacks, their pocket hand warmers (THANK YOU, blonde lady from Connecticut) and their stories about what they thought the election meant, why they wanted to be there, and what they thought would happen next.
I mostly listened. At first I was a little sad that I wasn’t there with a group of friends, and a little jealous of the students who were. But I eventually came to appreciate my situation — alone but not alone in a crowd of millions. The whole occasion became very quiet, personal, and introspective for me.
Listening to the talk of the people around me, and then the speech, I came to a simple conclusion: it’s no longer adequate to be a pointless person, a useless person. We all must be of use. I just don’t know how yet.
For the busride down, I had with me David Hackett Fischer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Washington’s Crossing. The spot where George Washington crossed the Delaware is about about ten miles from my house. So when President Obama closed his speech with this quote from Washington to rally his troops, I felt a special connection (and I’m not ashamed to say I teared up a little):
Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.
It’s time for me to start coming forth.