Over breakfast with our dear friends G. and L. in Potomac, watching the snow falling and juncos and wrens hunting for food beneath the rhododendrons beyond their sunporch, we asked if they'd ever attended an inauguration. Both of them were Washington lawyers for many years, and they've spent most of their lives in the capitol area and quite involved with the government; G. even clerked for one of the Supreme Court justices after graduating from law school.
They smiled. "Oh yes," they said, "we went to Clinton's second inauguration. We just decided to go on the spur of the moment, and drove into Washington - did we park on Pennsylvania Avenue? No, that's right, we found a garage just off it, and walked over. The crowd was maybe six people deep, and suddenly there was Clinton's limousine, and it stopped and he got out, not too far from us - we were all waving, and he was right there. We watched the whole thing."
All the papers seem to be trying to dissuade people from attending, and nearly all the locals we've talked to look at us like we're crazy. The media keeps insisting that the "record crowds" who've come from "all across America" are here so they can say, one day in the future, "I was there." For some of them, maybe that's the case, but you know, I think that statement reflects a certain inside-the-beltway cynicism, and denies the depth of feeling that has drawn so many people to the city to witness this event. Maybe I'm wrong; it's one's thing I hope to find out tomorrow.
I don't think you get in a car and drive thousands of miles just to collect a trophy experience you can tell your grandchildren about. You don't wait for hours or stand in the cold with tears running down your face in order to brag about it later. This isn't the SuperBowl, nor is it a Madonna concert; I think it is more like a pilgrimage, and the media perhaps is simply too jaded to understand or talk about its spiritual component. People are here because they feel something has changed, something that they've never seen in their lifetimes, and that they've had a part in that change. It's not just about Obama, and it's not just about race, but it is very much about taking a further step on the road to freedom.