Thursday, February 5, 2009

O Say Can You See

My son has a fever, so I'm letting him veg on the couch in front of the TV today. Rather than veg along with Barney, Curious George, and Wall-E, I have been reading my sis-in-law's old issues of People. I just finished last week's double issue obsessively detailing every blink, smile, and grunt from the inauguration of our new president, and let me tell you, I read it cover to cover.

I'm not normally a big celebrity hound, nor a political junkie, and part of me was a little disturbed to see the level of detail this family is subjected to. And yet, I want to know everything! For the first time in years and years, I am not disgusted by the sight and sound of the leader of my country. I find myself rooting for Obama and his family and am continually overwhelmed by the significance of their presence in the White House. It's so significant and so normal at the same time. So right.

When I watched Obama's inaugural speech, I was sobered by his laundry list of problems our country has to overcome and his emphasis on the work ahead for all of us. As a post-Katrina New Orleanian, I feel as though I know something about work. And yet, after he spoke, someone sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," the song we all know by rote, and I was surprised to find myself tearing up. I was overcome by the idea of a tattered old flag still standing for something, still meaning something, something about hope and optimism, and the future, and hard work toward communal success, about caring for those who have fought to get us here (and here I think primarily of Civil Rights warriors, not Civil War--of suffragettes, feminists, activists, environmentalists, and everyone who labored in their daily lives in unglamourous circumstances with no parades to welcome the change they wrought). Not silly debates over whether to declare flag-burning illegal, or brou-ha-ha over who wears flag pins and who doesn't, but a unifying symbol of a hopeful country.

Even now, when I read about the bills Obama is signing into law (healthcare for all children!), and the laws he is questioning and putting the brakes on (limits to Wall Street fatcat bonuses!), I am cheered and hopeful. This level of optimism feels somewhat foreign to a cynical Gen-Xer like me, and I worry about the inevitable mistakes that will be made: will they be catastrophic? Will they burst this delicate bubble of hope so many of us share? But the romantic, the poet, the mother, the optimist in me wants to believe that maybe this really could be the beginning of a new era, one in which our country actually lives up to its potential, becomes the magical place we learned about in grade school, a place to which I will be unequivocally proud to pledge my allegiance.

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