After many years I've come to understand that pilgrimage does not necessarily happen only abroad but right where we live, right under our noses. And I know that pilgrimages don't always seem to be religious or sacred in a theological sense, but can even take a nationalistic bent, e.g., 911 site, Gettysburg, and the old Yankee Stadium.
Such was this case of going to Washington, DC for the inaugural festivities for the 44th President of the USA, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden. While there were elements of religion in the rituals, it was still more secular and nationalistic...and powerful.
Along with our friend Mark, we left his home in Arlington, VA (Clarendon) around 10:30 A.M., getting on two different Metro lines to Arlington Cemetery. It was chilly! I dressed in several layers of clothes above and below. The sky was blue. No crowd walking to the Mall yet. DC was closed for the day: a Federal holiday. We had water bottles and energy bars, just like a pilgrimage. The trains were fairly full, but not too crowded. When we got off the train, a young man said his friends said that the Mall was now closed-off: all full. Nevertheless, we walked in frigid temps across Memorial Bridge from the cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial. We made it around the Memorial and then walked right onto the Mall by the edge of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, right in front of a Jumbo-tron television, watching the last thirty minutes of Bush's administration: 11:30. In front of us were Brynn (a Republican) and her friend (a Democrat), who tried to rationalize what was happening. Brynn was pro-life and hoped that Obama would be all right with issues around abortion. Brynn was from Delaware, so she shouted loudly when Biden became Vice President. I shouted too because it was the end of Cheney's reign. Then there was the bungling of Obama's oath of office, screwed up by Chief Justice Roberts. It was a comedy of errors in this case, but Obama was smooth.
What was amazing was the sense of joy that swept over the people who gathered at the Mall, conservative and liberal alike, along with independent people. People were friendly, talking and laughing with each other, we were sharing food and drinks, and there was a wonderful warmth over the crowd. There were shouts of joy when Biden and Obama took the oath of office, along with pictures of the Obama girls. The music of the quartet, playing an air on "Tis a gift to be simple" was beautiful, and the words of the poet, um, interesting. I was surprised at the non-offensive nature of the invocation by Warren, and laughed at Lowery's closing prayer, e.g., "If your brown, stick around." Aretha Franklin sang the National Anthem with her own jazzy bravado.
We walked over to one of the porta-potties, and soon were off and running for lunch, along with ALL of the 1.9 to 2 million people. Incredible! We walked around George Washington University's campus in search of food: a hot sandwich, with a hot drink. Hot.
It was an amazing day to be there. No crimes were committed in D.C. that day in or around the inaugural events. 1.8 to 2 million people were there, more than any before. There were a few less people watching it than Reagan's first inauguration on television.
We were a people. We were the United States "is" versus "are." We were united for a moment, sensing that something new was happening. To be at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial where so much history has taken place, like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech, "I have a dream" on August 28, 1963, while at the other end of the mall Obama was giving his speech seemed to be most fitting.
A chill went up our spines.
We were all kissing one another after he took the pledge.
Stay tuned for Part II!