“Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.” Jack Kerouac
I’ve started to write an Inauguration Day statement many times in the last two days. As it is with writing sermons, though, I can no longer think in straight lines. I can no longer understand anything in cause and effect formulas; there are too many unexpected appearances by ideas in flight, information in juxtaposition, and concrete conclusions built, in the end, of sand.
I am overloaded on images, as we all are. The tears of old black men and young white women are now indistinguishable within the headwaters of the mighty stream of righteousness. The edges of our individuality have blurred- a little, a lot. The human differences we have historically institutionalized at times, and even celebrated, fought over, and died because of, have begun (begun, yes, but- hallelujah!- begun) to fade- a little, a lot, and here and there even: altogether (my God, hallelujah! they have!).
President Obama’s first executive action as president was to set in motion the disassembly of the Guantanamo prisoner facilities. That there are significant numbers of Americans who believe that this was a wrong first action- who believe that some rights should be denied and that some torture should be allowed, indicates the depth and infections of the wounds we have suffered as a country. Even more important, far more important than economic recovery, will be the recovery of our shared decency. As the President signed those orders, a light began to shine. It’s Our Light and it is overcoming (because it must) the shadows which have grown inch by dark inch behind us in our time of politically encouraged fear and intentionally coerced separation from the world.
I think of the million little boys who can look over the heads of Kobe and LeBron and see Barack.
I thank God for the million little girls who are able now to look past Beyonce and Brandy and see Michelle.
A praise song for the day. I can’t stop smiling and neither can you and those smiles are on our hearts in ways some of us didn’t know they could be and in ways others of us had forgotten.
I’m sure there is someone who didn’t like Aretha’s hat, but I loved it because Aretha was singing about this day in 1967- “Respect”- before she knew this day would be, and before the King had been to the mountaintop and before all that goddam gunfire and before the dreams some of us dreamed had been scraped from our hearts and before the Twin Towers were built and before Watergate, Katrina, and Lewinsky and that hat, on her, this day, on this stage of stages in front of this crowd of crowds, just before a man stands up and says “I, Barack Hussein Obama…”
R, E, S, P, E, C, T……………
(Like I said, there is nothing linear possible for me here- I can only do this in recollection and amazement.) But there is one more thing:
Jess is 87, a neighbor here in this little red town in this big red state where I live. Jess told me yesterday about an episode in 1944 when he was in the service. A black soldier- a cook- had been assigned to the unit Jess was a part of at the base in NY to which he’d been assigned. After training, the unit was sent to Virginia, in preparation for their assignments in Europe.
Just outside of Washington, D.C., part of the unit stopped for lunch at a local diner where- of course- the owner of the diner insisted that if the “n—–“ was going to eat, then he’d have to eat in the kitchen. Jess said that it was pointed out by the NY members of the unit that the man was a soldier! But the Southern soldiers, like Jess, knew how these laws worked and so they told their black friend to go ahead and go to the kitchen. So he did.
He did, and they followed him. Along with their Commanding Officer, the soldiers, white and black, Northern and Southern, lined the kitchen and ordered their food. And were served.
Jess was telling me this and he said he’d never forgotten that day, that meal, that soldier. His eyes were telling me – 64 years later- that they had, together, done something right and good that day, and they knew it.
And, I think (hell, I know), that day was a part of this day, too.