Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

I watched the inauguration today of the new president and vice-president of the United States, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden; and I thought it was a lovely, thoughtful ceremony, with the performance of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" sung by Aretha Frankiln and the closing benediction by Joseph Lowery, two people who embody history, and the classical piece by Yo Yo Ma and his colleagues, the inclusive poem by Elizabeth Alexander, and the very honest and intelligent speech by Barack Obama. It was good to see the greeting the outgoing president and his wife gave to the Obamas at the White House (following a church service and before the inauguration); and to see the goodbye that the Obamas gave to the Bushes following the inauguration. Barack Obama is an icon: he, handsome and elegant, represents intellect, political progress, and cultural complexity. He speaks now, as he has before, about the work we all must do together.

I am reminded of conversations I would have sometimes with an acquaintance in the city (there is only one city in the United States: all other towns aspire to it). We would talk about ideals and I would talk about what I would like to do: I felt as if our ideals should be lived in our own lives, must be lived in our own lives, if they were to live at all; and I think she thought of my speech as a kind of distinctive narcissism. I thought that our limitations and possibilities were the real limitations and possibilities, the kinds of things that any aspirant would face. Of course, not all of us get the encouragement or support for our dreams that we want or need: and so we may not achieve our goals, or if we do it is after long and lonely struggle and sacrifice, and sometimes the sacrifices are terrible.

When the new president speaks of the work that is to be done, I find myself hoping that a structure of support will be there for those who dare to dream: they will begin responsibilities but to complete those responsibilities, they will need help.