"I wasn't there, but I was there.."

I didn’t get to go to the Inauguration, but a lot of my family members did. My sister sent me her thoughts and I feel honored to share them here. The opening line to A Lesson Before Dying is “I wasn’t there, but I was there.” That sums up how I feel...

I just wanted to take a moment to send a few notes about my incredible experience yesterday in Washington, D.C.  Robert, Brandie and I, along with some of my NYC relatives got together for a once in a lifetime experience.  

We decided to go with a friend who sponsored a bus outing from Baltimore since private cars were not going to be allowed in D.C.  Getting eight people up, dressed and ready to meet a bus at 4:00 AM was easier than I thought since we were all very excited and were eagerly awaiting this event.  Thankfully, the temperature in Baltimore rose to a high of 28 degrees to start out with and stayed around 38 degrees throughout the day.   Yes, it was really cold!  We arrived at RFC stadium where only charter buses were allowed to park at around 6:30 AM.  Although it was still dark when we arrived, the huge parking lot was nearly filled with chartered buses from all around the country.  Joining the crowds, we exited our bus, making our way to the shuttle buses that was to shuttle us into D.C.  There was massive groups of people, walking along, to line up for buses.  The lines were really long and we had to wait almost over hour just to board a shuttle bus, but you would not have believed how warm and friendly the groups were.  Calling out the names of their cities and states, breaking into "Obama" chants, laughing, joking everyone was thrilled to be there.  

We finally boarded our shuttle bus, making our way to the city.  The traffic, made up of only shuttle busses, was so congested, a 10 minute ride took over 45 minutes.  Still, believe it or not, no one complained.  We departed the bus and joined a crowd of hundreds, walking, making our way to the Mall area.  The directions and instructions given by police and volunteers, were sometimes wrong, which meant several hundred people had to turn and go another way, but still, no complaints, just, okay, which way do we go?  Although it was around 9:30 we finally reached the Mall area, we were disheartened to learn that many of the Mall areas were already full and closed.  My group kept walking, eagerly looking for a spot to see the big screens.  We ended finding a small area, off to the side of the Mall, but we could see the screen and hear the loud speaker.  It wasn't really a Mall spot, about 100 feet short of the Mall, but off to the side.   We decided this was our spot.  Our spot quickly filled with others, all smiling and greeting each other with, comments like, Wow, we're here, can't believe it.   We were lucky to find our spot since there were hundreds of others lining side-streets, not able to see the screens or hear the speeches, but they stood cheering anyway.  All glad just to be there.   I can't describe how the Mall looked filled with people.  I have never seen that many people standing together, all happy and cheering.  

I stood next a woman from Kansas.  She and her son made the trip via plane.  She said they were Obama supporters early on in the campaign.  Things had really been bad for their town for several years.  Obama was their last hope and she was a thrilled to be there as I was.  It was her first time in D.C. and she kept commenting on how safe and friendly it was there!  She couldn't believe all the stories she had heard about D.C.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that this was not the D.C. anyone had ever seen before either.  By the time the program started, we were really cold, but packed in our spot with no room to move.  I have never been comfortable in large groups, but don't ask me why, it didn't bother me that I could feel someone almost laying on my back.  I couldn't move my body at all without nudging the person next to or behind me.  I couldn't take as many photographs as I wanted to because it was difficult to get my camera out in the crowds and my hands were freezing when I took my gloves off.  The weather and the crowding did take a toll on some of the very young children and older people who had to ask the National Guardsman to assist them to get to the Red Cross tent.  Each time someone shouted, I need help, the crowd parted to see what was wrong and helped that person make it to the front to get assistance.  Some of the older people that had to be taken out really surprised me that they were even there.  Seniors with canes and walkers, were upset when the weather and the standing made them give up and ask to be taken out of the crowd.  One older woman looked faint, but only agreed to go when they told her she could still hear in the Red Cross tent.  

Robert and I prepared signs that contained the names of our parents and other friends and family members who had passed on, never living to see this day.  Our signs were our way of bringing them along to witness the moment.  Our youngest family member (great-niece age 8) proudly carried the sign she made with her school number and congratulations President Obama as well.  

I cheered with the crowd as President Obama spoke, but it surprised me that I cried when President Obama said the words, "...so help me God.."  The tears flowed freely, I was there and it really happened, a African-American man was sworn in as the President of the United States!  I cannot describe the emotion I felt, but looking around at those cheering, crying and yelling showed me others felt the same.  I hugged my daughter and my husband, all of us tearfully and smiling.  As a family, we had made it to this historical event.

Our adventure continued after the speeches were over, with us trying unsuccessfully to find a place to sit and get something to eat.  Believe it or not, we could not find any place to sit, and thank goodness for our packed "bus-ride" lunches, we had something to eat.  Even that didn't deter us, we kept walking and searching.  We really walked a few miles before we decided to give up and go back to the bus to await our ride home.  Even that proved to be a challenge.  The D.C. metro station we walked to was closed down due to some time of accident.  There were literally hundreds of people lined up to await the Metro.  We walked back to our shuttle buses and waited to board a shuttle bus back to RFK stadium.  Again, people were still smiling, polite and trying to help each other.  We made it back to our bus around 4:30 PM, when I sat down for the first time all day.  I couldn't believe I had been walking and standing since 5:30 AM.  I have bad arthritis in both my knees.  It must have been the adrenaline, or my knees were frozen, but I was not in pain and I had walked miles and stood for over 12 hours.  

My only sadness about the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, was that every person who believed in him and supported his message of Change, could not be there to witness his oath of office.  I am, however, profoundly grateful that I, along with my family, was there...


Juan G said…
Boy, I think what touched me most about this post was reading that your sister had listed the names of relatives who did not live to see it happen.

I live in DC and opted to spend the time leading up to the inauguration in Florida to thaw from a recent trip to England and trust me the closer it got to the actual swearing in the more I regretted having made that decision.

My mother called me shortly after and said, "what did you think?" I wasn't sure if she was talking about his speech or just what and then she added that she never thought she would live to see the day. I think for the first time it occurred to me that the possibility of it happening was so far removed from my thinking that I never really "thought" about it.

I watched the event from the comfort of my hotel room and was brought to tears on several occasions but not from his words but from the views of the throngs of people who were there to witness first hand a historical moment in the life of our country.

I was there with my grandmother to hear Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and I was on the mall for the Million Man March both of which were significant events in my life but I would gladly trade those two experiences in to have witnessed first-hand President Obama's inauguration.

I think the excitement of the day was clear when I saw a picture of Denzel Washington sitting alone on the front row of seats where he was assigned hours before the ceremony began. He could have very easily been a "celebrity" and showed up very near to the beginning but on that day he was just a "brother" proud and excited that another brother was reaching the highest office in our nation.

God Bless President Obama and his family and God Bless the United States of America -- I think we can make it!

Popular posts from this blog

There is no Try

The Power to Say Yes