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A Resumption of our Humanity

Many people gathering together in a circle
image credit: iStock/hkeita

As I watched the Biden-Harris inaugural ceremonies this week, I found myself overcome by unanticipated thoughts and feelings.

Although I’ve been aware of presidential inaugurations since 1960, when I was nine, this is the first one I’ve ever taken the time to watch in its entirety.

Of course, as a reliable Democrat, there were the expected feelings of relief as the political pendulum swung in favor of my preferred affiliation.

And obviously, given the armed insurrection we witnessed in our Capitol building only a couple of weeks ago, there was great relief as the wheels of democracy once again seemed to engage reliably, carrying us forward into a new administration, even if it did require 25,000 members of our National Guard to be on hand to defend our duly elected political leaders from another attack.

But there was more. In addition to the speakers and performers, there was the unexpected comfort of seeing fellow human beings mingling together, without rancor, and with some joy at greeting and conversing with each other. I found it especially moving to see VP Mike Pence and his wife being accepted into this gathering – knowing, as we do, that it was only a few weeks ago that the president whom he had served loyally for four years had branded him as a traitor, and set his followers upon him, as if loosing a pack of dogs, to hunt him down like a wild animal in the halls of our nation’s Capitol.

And then there was the music, and the poetry. I’m not a particular fan of any of the singers chosen, but I appreciated the mix of styles and genres and backgrounds coming together to sing of our national heritage, and I was moved by all of their renditions. And I appreciated the inclusion of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” along with the more traditional “America the Beautiful.” And even though I don’t consider myself a Christian in any sort of orthodox way, I was moved by “Amazing Grace,” speaking as it does to a univeral hope for redemption, one that stretches beyond our national boundaries (and reminding me of the time when my brother broke out into a spontaneous rendition of this hymn a few years back while we were celebrating his birthday in a restaurant in New Orleans).

And then there was the completely unexpected joy of hearing and seeing Amanda Gorman, our national youth poet laureate, delivering her original work “The Hill We Climb” on a national stage. For anyone used to associating political events with empty words, it was entirely impactful to hear a recitation in which every word was precisely and carefully chosen to achieve an original effect, and a carefully crafted meaning.

But overall, taking it all in together, the entire gestalt for me was a feeling that our feelings and practices of humanity, after being put on hold for four years, could now be resumed.

I realized that, for four long years, I’ve felt trapped inside a national model for human relations that knew only leading and following, only domination and submission, only winning and being beaten. And it was not so much that I was tired of being part of one side or the other, but I was just weary of living in a world where the glory and hope of humanity had been reduced to these few paltry elements.

And the inaugural ceremony swept me away, back to the land I scarce realized we had abandoned: a land in which we are happy to be connected to another just because of our shared humanity; a land in which we revere this great gift of language that we’ve been given, and use it carefully, joyously and wisely; a land in which we dare to dream of a better tomorrow, not just for some few of us, but for all who wish to join us; a land in which we each recognize our individual limitations, yet aspire to greatness through our union with others; a land of music and poetry and song, right alongside plain, straightforward speech.

And in sensing all of this, I felt a great and much-needed expansion, a feeling of reclaiming something like the full breadth and depth of what it means to be human on this planet in the 21st century.

And because we are human, I know mistakes will be made, accomplishments will fall short of aspirations, partisan bickering will certainly occur, along with differences of philosophy and deeply held beliefs about policy.

But nonetheless, for now I feel nothing but joy and hope and a celebration of who we are, as well as who we might become.

And for now that’s more than enough, at least for me.

January 21, 2021