I have been witness, in the modern sense via television and, today, the internet, to history four times in my life.
I remember the Watergate hearings when I was 9 but the only impression they made on me was that they were preempting the only thing worth watching on daytime TV- soap operas. Hey, in my defense, I was 9 and this was long before cable TV gave us hundreds of channels to find nothing on. I can't really count this one since it meant very little more to me at the time except as a disruption to my summer routine.
The first time I watched history (and knew it) was on January 28, 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart on take off. I've been a fan on the space program for years and tried to watch the Shuttle whenever possible. That day was to be the first day a civilian went into space, a teacher, so I watched. Seeing that contrail break up was a physical pain. It took my breath away. I knew instantly that all 7 crew members were dead or dying and that the space program had been dealt a serious blow.
I next watched history made with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. I watched CNN with a feeling of awe and utter amazement. It's hard for those who didn't live through the Cold War to truly grasp how profound a moment that was. The world as I had known it my entire life had changed. Yes, we still had Ronnie Raygun in the White House but there was finally hope that we might not annihilate ourselves.
I next watched history on September 11, 2001. I was en route to teach Day 2 of a 3 day modified American Red Cross Emergency Responder course at Applied Materials in Austin, Texas. On the way to the class, I was listening to NPR and caught a news bulletin as I arrived that said a plane had struck the World Trade Center. We had a TV in the classroom for the video portions of the class and we turned it on. Through the static of a crappy connection, we watched the North tower burn and listened to the live commentary as the second plane struck the South tower. My first thought was "we're at war". I turned to my co-worker and told him to call the Chapter, they're going to need you. He did and left moments later. Three of us were there that day to teach, when David left Gina and I turned off the TV and taught the class. It certainly had more meaning than it had the day before. We were training these folks to respond to emergencies by teaching them CPR and advanced first aid. We did so conscious of the fact that the knowledge they were gaining was something that they might very well have to use in case of another terror attack. Let me end with one note. I was an employee of the American Red Cross on September 11, 2001 and I believe that the funds they raised from the enormous outpouring of generosity of the American people after that day deserved to stay with the organization. Funds accepted by the American Red Cross were never intended to be divided only among victims' families but instead to help in times of natural and man made disaster. In the years following 9/11, the Red Cross has had to take out emergency loans in order to respond to disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Ike. They deserve your help. Someday, they may be helping you.
And lastly, we come to today. January 20, 2009 and the inauguration of Barack Obama.
I watched the proceedings online via the Al Jazeera feed off Livestation. They showed the proceedings from beginning to end without interruption or commentary. Watching Cheney arrive in a wheelchair was one of the most satisfying moments of the whole thing. Bush was so somber, he almost looked bored. Biden was as giddy as a school girl and Obama was calm and cool. Dude, what was Aretha Franklin thinking? That hat was...words simply fail me. The quartet was amazing. Simple Gifts is one of my favorite hymns both for its music and its words. To hear it arranged by the master, John Williams, and played by Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill was beautiful.
Then we have the oath of office. Even though Chief Justice Roberts messed up, and my first thought was oops there's an opening for the nut jobs, it was a glorious moment.
Obama's speech was forceful and direct. It was somber and stern, but I believe that on reflection it once again shows why we elected this man in the first place. "The time has come to set aside childish things," he said. Time to set aside petty grievances, to "reaffirm our enduring spirit" and begin the work of rebuilding our nation. He reminded us of the sacrifices of those that came before us and pushed us to continue in their footsteps. But the best part came when he said,
"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."
He has set in place a new paradigm. One that looks beyond partisan politics and political dogma and looks towards pragmatism. He wants us to take off the rose colored glasses and look at the reality around us. There is much work to be done, much sacrifice that must be made, but also much that can be accomplished.
Let us begin this solemn work together, cognizant of the history that we share and looking to the future that is coming whether we want it to or not.