This may seem strange to some, but I did not have great anticipation for today's speech. Don't get me wrong, I was not about to miss one second of today's Inauguration but I've heard the new President speak many times before. Although he was always impressive and a brilliant orator, the content and tone were always consistent. I felt he did this deliberately to provide certainty to a country and a world gripped with fear of the unknown; where uncertainty was becoming paralyzing. So I was not expecting anything really memorable; but to me it was more than memorable - it was stirring.
As he placed the moment in context highlighting the challenges, I thought that yes, it's true that there are all those challenges, but the tried and true foundation values have made us overcome challenges before
I nodded as he named all the negatives and talked about turning them around...a shift in our thinking, in our outlook, in our views. I affirmed quietly: Unity. No more fear. No more conflict. No more discord.
I could not believe he actually said: "end petty grievances, recriminations and worn-out dogmas....the time has come to set aside childish things"....I wished at that moment that I could have had an Instant Replay or pressed a rewind button so I could hear it again and again.
I captured the words "all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness" into my consciousness to walk with me in my own life journey.
I said to myself that yes, it's true. People do have more in common - we are all generations that have evolved from some kind of struggle. It has been work that has brought reward. We are not given, we have to earn. Our talents have not changed, nor has the ability to apply them....it is the circumstances that have changed and we must adapt. We have done that time and time again for that is the story of mankind
When he decried "narrow interest", I thought that finally, we are going to be led to be our brother's keeper. The environment teaches you of the inextricable interconnectedness of life and yet so often we act as if our actions have no impact on others, and if they do we don't care what the impact is.
The President said "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off..." and I immediately thought of Peter Tosh's "Pick Myself Up" (click link here). And now I had a song to associate with the speech, and have been singing since.
When he said that the question is whether or not government works, I said: That's the point!
In speaking of the market, he affirmed its critical role but made it clear it must provide opportunity for all. And in those few sentences, I was reassured that he understood what had gone wrong in the financial sector crisis, and what must be made better in the future - a subject I have written on many times.
I felt pride to be an American (yes, I was born in NY) whose country wants to be friends with the world. "Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more", he said.
I will never forget: "....power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. ..... power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint." Does not entitle us to do as we please.
I was elated to hear the President speak in respectful tones with respectful content in reference to the return of Iraq to "its" people. "Peace" in Afghanistan, he said. Peace, everywhere I pray.
I felt pride to be an American whose President sees diversity as a strength.
And, I was beyond words and elated to be an American whose President makes special effort to reach out to the Muslim world and those with whom there have been conflicts for it is only through dialogue that we can build lasting peace based on respect. What an image: "...we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist"
I sensed we had a President who had a greater understanding of the complexities of poorer nations. He spoke of how he would help them help themselves; and he said that other nations cannot be indifferent. Development is a two way street.
As a student of the environment, I listened for it. And I heard it. He knows the importance of the warming climate, and importantly the responsibility to use resources sustainably
And then he said the most important sentence of all: "For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies." He continued with a passage that should be repeated again and again: "Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. " President Obama cannot fix the world's problems, or any individual's problems. It is you and I who have to do it. He can lead, he can organize, and he can provide support. But a country is nothing without the people; without the will of the people; and without the work of the people.
And no good speech ends without a call to action: "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations. "
I'm ready to carry "forth that great gift of freedom and deliver it safely to future generations." Are you?