This morning I started thinking about Inauguration Day, and how much it offers us. There's the patriotic aspect, of course: one of the few days where we seem to be able to put our ideological differences aside and celebrate the outcome of the democratic process. But there's so much more. So, in no particular order, here are some things I've been thinking about this morning:
--So much has changed since 2009 when I watched the first Obama inauguration. Some of it is good: we've had 4 years of a mixed race president, and happily, it was fairly similar to 4 years of any other president. No assassination attempts, none of the things my far-left liberal acquaintances fretted about 4 years ago. Sure, there was nastiness, but much of it was easily dealt with.
--Of course, some of the changes have been less good. Four years ago, I felt such a sense of optimism and hope. Now, I don't as much. I look around my workplace, and I barely recognize the place: so many colleagues gone or demoted to adjunct status. How much of that has anything to do with who is in charge as president of the U.S.? Perhaps not much. But I've seen the steady erosion of the middle class during the last 4 years, and I've come to believe that the field of higher education will not be taking me to retirement, at least, not without some supplement.
--The poet in me loves the symbolism drenching the event, from the Bibles used for swearing in, to the music chosen, the poet who will read, the preachers who will preside over parts. I could even make a case for the symbolism of the clothes.
--The teacher in me latched onto this fact: on this morning's NPR Morning Edition, presidential historian Michael Beschloss noted that this is likely to be Obama's last big audience. From here on out, fewer people will be paying attention to what he has to say. So, if I was creating a teaching assignment, I'd have students write what they'd want to say if they only had one shot to speak to their fellow citizens.
--I tend not to watch these events, although I watched 4 years ago. It was too historic to miss. Of course, I usually have to be at work. But today, I have MLK Day off, so perhaps I'll tune in. But I'm more likely to be doing laundry and cooking. I'll probably have the radio on, and NPR will keep me updated. I'm less interested in the visual and more in what I hear.
--I'm most interested in poet Richard Blanco. And again, the poetry teacher in me wants a copy of his poem to go with my copy of Elizabeth Alexander's poem. It leads naturally to a writing assignment of having students write their own poem that commemorates a huge event.
--And the theologian in me will be interested in how the preachers approach this assignment. How to be inclusive? For more on theological ideas on this day, see this post on my theology blog.
--So, I don't feel the soaring optimism and hope that I felt 4 years ago. But I still feel the quiet pull of optimism and hope. It's my natural temperament, so perhaps it's not strange. I love the idea of a chance to start over, a chance to accomplish what was left undone over the last 4 years.