Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The New, New Colossus

There are a bunch of words etched in stone beneath the Statue of Liberty. One line goes something like:
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
If you were in the District of Columbia yesterday, I'd wager that the phrase "huddled masses" has a very new, perhaps special meaning for you.

If you weren't there, then whatever you've seen, read or heard is probably very true. The Inauguration of President Barack Obama was something that will not be seen again. In any lifetime.

Amidst the blur of my own memory (which is admittedly sparse due to circumstances not worth describing) one thing stands out above everything else.

No matter how many people I stood with. How many people I walked with. How many people I tried not to freeze with. There was a profound lack of animosity hanging in the air between us. Over us.

That sense of frustration which often sours the collective joy experienced when masses huddle together to share a moment in time. The kind that creeps up when one too many of the millions bumps into the wrong person. The kind that seeps in when the elements reveal themselves to be patently unkind. The kind that trickles in when a wailing belly, blistering feet or a crooked back muddies up the emotions. That stuff...It was no where to be found. Not in any of the places I looked. And I looked in several places. Several times several.

Which is not to say that no one felt any of those things. Merely that the pangs of happiness and excitement which colored any one person's experience on our nation's mall yesterday far outweighed the pangs of unpleasantness that usually inform the briefer moments of such monumental gatherings. So, I presume.

The question now, I think, is: "How far will that joy carry us?"

Eventually, those bellies that cry out will not go unheard. When their wails drown all other sound, what will that joy do then? Will it patiently deliver sustenance? Or will it find itself sitting on some shelf next to another forgotten souvenir?

It's probably not the question to ponder while nursing yourself through one righteous hangover. But, at some point, the conversation will turn. When it does, I hope the masses who huddled will recall. And that the fear and loathing will be quenched. Again.

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