The noted historian Ken Burns was on “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” last night, and despite their love of the game, they were most assuredly not talking baseball. It was after most of the Inauguration Day festivities had wound down and folks were putting on their tuxedos and getting ready for the Inaugural Balls later that evening, when Burns made a profound statement that sent me back in my chair reeling. That’s what all good historians do, well at least for me having History as a minor at college; I had enough amazing professors that could keep me enraptured for hours with their lectures…but the point Burns made was one that we felt throughout the day yesterday that could not adequately be put into words. If Jefferson was Act I having to compromise on slavery in order to get the Declaration of Independence ratified; Lincoln was Act II with the Emancipation Proclamation; then President Obama was Act III, the validation and redemption of all that came before. It was just a brilliant observation, and one that got me thinking more about what happened yesterday.
Around 11:45 am, my Mail Carrier came by bringing the day’s usual supply of bills and junk mail, plus a CD I ordered. Doug’s been our mail guy for the past four years, and he’s been in the post longer than anyone has for the ten years that we’ve been in the house. With the amount of CDs and DVDs we order around here, Doug is kept pretty busy and always makes sure we know when we get a package or will keep a look out at the Post Office if I tell him something is running REALLY late (usually something from overseas); he always takes good care of our stuff. We take care of him nicely at Christmastime, plus he’s an incredibly great guy, who my kids absolutely love. When he came by yesterday as it was getting close to noon, I asked him if he wanted to watch the swearing in and the speech. He was grateful for the invite, most especially since he had forgotten the time and said that since he was running ahead of schedule on his route, he’d stop by as soon as finished my block. Thanks to Dick “I Have No Staffers To Carrry My Boxes” Cheney and his strained back and wheelchair, the ceremony was running late; so it was fortuitous that by the time Doug got back, the President didn’t even take the oath yet.
So we sat there each with a cup of coffee, watching history unfold…just two American men in whose company (to paraphrase the President and steal a line) 60 years ago it would have been thought unacceptable to be in each other’s company. Doug’s African-American and from the South, and I’m a skinny white Irish Italian Guy from Brooklyn and Staten Island…and we are together watching the first African-American President being sworn in. We were high-fiving through the speech and welling up at other points. But there came a moment when I just stole a glance on my right and I saw something in his eyes that could not be described; a pride and an almost disbelief that this was actually happening. The look that pretty much told me all I had to know, and all I had to see…that this is America. This is who we are now, at this moment in this time…not one white man or one black man in a room; but two men, two Americans who took pride in what they witnessed yesterday. That is what America is all about; it’s who we are now as one people, one nation, moving forward together with common purpose toward hopefully a better tomorrow…indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
“The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” – Abraham Lincoln