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Meg Riley's Inauguration Diary: The Big Event

Read Part 1 and Part 3 of Riley's Diary.

The Big Day
January 20

We talked about what time to get to the Hill this morning and eventually settled on 8 AM, when the security checkpoint was supposed to open.  Many thoughts went into when we should leave, and eventually we decided to go with the outer reach of our toe warmers: 5 hours!  It’s hard to imagine what this morning will look like!  The Metro stations close to us are not open.  Folks have been advised to walk anywhere within a 2 mile perimeter of their final destination.  It’s still dark outside, and I have not yet succumbed to my desire to turn on the TV and see what’s going on, because Jie and Amy are still happily sleeping.  Sleeping despite numerous sirens, occasional yelling and screaming, and horns honking. 

Here is my kit for the journey:  iPhone (fully charged), Jie’s binoculars (in my pocket), 3 protein bars (you never know), the all-important tickets, drivers’ license, credit card, fifty bucks for souvenirs- taxis- food, lip balm, hand and foot warmers, a pen…I think that’s it. I may regret not taking a water bottle; I’m not taking a poncho and am hoping rumors of snow are ill-founded, as no umbrellas are allowed.

So, on to the events of the day, friend and teenaged daughter in tow.  I don’t know how much I’ll embarrass my daughter today, but two things are certain:  1), I will, and 2), I am not holding myself back today!!!

The Ceremony

Well, it was COLD.  We left at 7:15 and headed for the “Silver Section” – the spot the least prestigious ticketholders were assigned-- where we would stand.  We took the 3rd street freeway tunnel underneath the Capitol since we could only access it from the south side, and we were staying on the north.  It was wonderful and odd to be with a horde of people walking on an interstate.  Once we got out of the tunnel, we commenced to stand in a huge, endless, sea of people who were trying to get to access points on the mall.  As always, we chatted with people around us about where they were from and how excited they were. 

I am proud to say that I wasn’t one bit cold, unlike my shivering daughter and whining friend.  My Minnesota clothes stood me well in the whipping wind: leggings, lined wool pants, a turtleneck, a boiled wool sweater, a parka with hood designed for -10 degree weather, a scarf, a hat, a hood, incredibly thick mittens, and I put toe warmers inside my sneakers.  Aaahhh…complete comfort. 

We arrived at our place to stand about 9:30 AM after our two-hour trek. “When is it going to STAARTTT?” someone near me asked repeatedly.  “It’s started,” I told her.  “This is what we came for.  This, right now.  Standing here with all these people.  We could have seen and heard the actual inauguration much better on TV…we came here for THIS.” 

You, who watched the ceremony on TV, saw things more clearly than I did, but my reactions were not blurred.  Rick Warren’s invocation was very painful for me to hear.  It is painful to hear someone talk about “everyone” being worthy of dignity, and have reason to believe that you are not part of “everyone.”  When he closed with the Lord’s prayer, there were folks around me murmuring along with him, and I knew that, for them,  it was soothing.  However for me, that prayer will always evoke elementary school in West Virginia, when everyone but me would say that prayer daily, right after the Pledge of Allegiance…a daily reminder that my Unitarian family was different, that I didn’t fit in.  I was glad to hear Warren mention being with people who disagreed, but were civil to one another.  On the other hand, Pastor Joseph Lowery’s closing prayer was soothing balm for me.  His words were so inclusive, and his use of familiar words from his particular tradition – including the words to the African American National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” -- reached out to hold everyone.  Lowery’s comical and heartfelt style proved a great way to close the inauguration ceremony.

It took us only ninety minutes to stumble home again.  As we walked back through the tunnel, people chanted, “OBAMA” as always, and I found myself chanting “PRESIDENT.  OBAMA.”  It still doesn’t feel real, but there it is, the reality that comes from a relatively brief ceremony, held every four years in our country.  Back at the apartment, Jie and I ate a bite, watched a little of the parade on TV, and fell into deep, exhausted sleep. 

Refreshed from my nap, I got dressed for the Peace Ball that would soon begin.  Jie, still deep in sleep after two overnights with friends and a wildly successful concert, was thrilled to have a night alone at the apartment.  Now, off to the festivities!

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Last updated on Thursday, June 3, 2010.

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