I flew in last night after ten intense days in my literary bubble at Bennington College in Vermont, and thought I’d have trouble shifting gears. But as I waited at the Baltimore airport for the Big Blue Van to take me to where I will be staying at my friend’s apartment in the new embassy district, I fell into the crowd that was flowing in for the inauguration and my internal landscape changed in an instant. It was impossible not to be swept all at once into the sensation of being part of history.
Plus there were the coats. I was wearing (and still am) a slightly dirty, very un-chic black down jacket, but the women arriving from all over the country came with the most amazing array of coats. Floor-length minks, and the most glamorous faux furr-ish numbers for the non-pelt-wearing among us. You name it, women at the Baltimore airport were sporting it proudly and elegantly.
Nearby to all the fabulous coat-wearing women, there was a guy named Shawn from some local NPC affiliate who was doing video interviews with some of those, like me, who were queing up for a van. He first asked if they were there for the inauguration, (which everyone within earshot seemed to be), then he asked all the expected questions: “What does this mean to you? Why was it important for you to come?”
When I asked for his card, he interviewed me too.
In response to the boilerplate queries, I gave embarrassingly boilerplate answers. I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was here, I said. (Great, I thought as I heard myself. I’ve just come from ten days with writers and this is all I can manage?)
Then maybe because I was running on days of little sleep, or maybe because I was already caught up in the fever of the moment, but I muttered something rather soapy and inarticulate. “I want to be here the day the world changes,” I said.
And I began to cry, which seemed embarrassingly silly. I fanned my eyes. “Sorry,” I said to Shawn as his video rolled. “Sorry, sorry! I don’t know why I’m getting so emotional….!”
Then I looked up and I saw he was crying too.
After we finished talking and crying, I did my own interviews. I talked to Samantha, a Goth-made-up student at San Francisco State who took a semester off to volunteer for Obama.
And Eleanor who runs a day care center in San Antonio and was there with three of her friends. “This is the most exciting thing I’ll ever do in my life,” she said, and recited an expanded version of what got me to get weepy.
“This is going to change the whole world.” Eleanor said. “Not just the United States. The world.”
Are the expectations ridiculously and unrealistically high? Oh, sure. Hell, yeah. Of course.
But as I talked to more and more people, in the airport and in the van— the attractive and very blond family from Nashville, Kim Nickerson, the teacher and sometimes actress from LA, and so on and so on—it seemed that, despite the over-the-top phrasing that we all seemed to grasp for in scrambling to explain our respective states of mind and the feelings that were at once personal and communal, that it wasn’t about any kind of deification of this one very human guy being sworn into office, or even crazy expectations. It really is about hope.
There’s no better word. Hope. Despite all the cynicism, despite the impossibilities that await our new president, despite our knowledge of the things that can (and probably will) go wrong. Hope. That’s all.
And it’s been a long time in coming.
More blogging from my iPhone later today…