On the Eve, Shed A Little Light

20Jan09

Not even a month ago, (most of) a family I’m friendly with came to visit Washington DC.  They were on a whirlwind tour, taking the holiday break to show off more of the country than just their (adorable!) classic New England town to the local high school’s two Turkmeni exchange students.  It was bitterly cold, and we stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out at the reflecting pool and the Washington Memorial.

Turkmenistan is not exactly the world example of freedom of information, so these students have been unable to learn much of their own history, nevermind ours.  How do you explain the significance of the Civil War?  So much of it has been rewritten, ignored, forgotten.  How do you explain the significance of Lincoln?  Regardless of the truth of the man, he is a powerful national myth figure.  But then there’s the experience of Lincoln Memorial itself, from the Marian Anderson concert to “I Have A Dream.”  I can’t possibly fully understand the significance of even part of this history, how can I hope to help begin to explain it to someone else?  And that’s ignoring the rest of the National Mall.  I really don’t want to have to start explaining the Vietnam War… or Korea.  Or World War II.  Because, let’s be serious, my history classes barely got to WWII, mentioned that Vietnam happened, and the largest part of my knowledge of the Korean War is framed by Hawkeye Pierce and the M*A*S*H 4077.  I’m from New England.  I can give you a detailed history of the Burning of the Gaspee and the monetary policies of the colonies, but everything I know about history after the Gilded Age is a direct result of personal interest, and not formal education.

No matter how much I read, no matter how much I watch, no matter how much I talk to those who experienced some of the history I wasn’t there for– how can I hope to understand?  How can I hope to explain?

But despite my inability to explain, I do feel it.  Some places are steeped in history, and you just can’t deny it.  Driving in and out of Concord, Massachusetts this summer.  Benefit Street on the East Side of Providence.  And the National Mall in Washington DC.

Capitol at Night

I remember knowing that George H. W. Bush was president, I remember an older relative quizzing me on that particular fact.  I vaguely remember that there was a presidential election.  But the entire time that I have been old enough to think critically about the role of a president has been during the administration of George W. Bush.  Agree or disagree with his policies, the man has spent much of his time outside of Washington DC altogether, has spent much of the time in Washington inside the White House, and has not had an overwhelming number of speeches or press conferences.

Obama is the first internet-ready president.  And one of the most important things that the internet has given us is a sense of interconnectedness.  You can keep track of what your old teachers are doing, your high school friends, your kindergarten friends…  And they can all talk to each other.

I had hoped desperately that James Taylor would play “Shed A Little Light” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday, but it was not to be, sadly.  But I’ll share part of the lyrics with you here-

Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

This has been the never-ending soundtrack in my head over the last few months.  Obama’s election is a turning point, and it is a unifying force that calls us to serve, together, as Americans.  This is a powerful belongingness that I have never before felt.

I’ve been feeling a little under the weather, and my boyfriend has been fighting off a rather nasty cold for a while now (and he really can’t afford to get any sicker).  We’re 6 walking miles away from the Capitol.  I doubt we’ll be there in person, at least not for the swearing in ceremony.  But the miraculous part of this time in history for me?  I don’t feel like I have to be on the National Mall to be part of this moment, because this moment will not just be at the Capitol.  This is a moment for everyone, everywhere.  And I can’t wait to share it with you.

Speaking of sharing, I really do promise to tell you about my bread adventures one of these days.  But every time I think I have it pretty well nailed, I do something silly like pull out an underdone loaf, or oversalt the rolls.  But since that first loaf, it’s all been mostly edible, so I don’t really have an excuse.

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3 Responses to “On the Eve, Shed A Little Light”

  1. 1 Dad

    Your review of the day was wonderful. Makes me wonder why you’re not spending your time writing your first novel.

  2. 2 Dad

    Obama has given us permission to love one another. I hope it never goes away.

  3. 3 Josh

    One of my favorite songs too. The reason JT didn’t do it, I suspect, is that he performed it at Clinton’s second inaugural back in 1997. It did seem like it would have been fitting here though.


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