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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

All That You Heard That It Was

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | January 22nd, 2009 | Comments No Comments

I’ve never played an instrument, but I imagine performing in a world class orchestra might be similar to the feeling of being in the crowd at the Mall on the morning of Pres. Obama’s Inauguration. Capitol at DawnIt was nothing I’ve ever experienced and I’m still having trouble defining the feeling of being part of something larger than the sum of its parts. The feeling of being part of something more grand and more noble than I could possibly experience alone. The feeling of an electricity that charged me and everyone around me to be better, kinder, taller. The feeling that connected me to humanity and made me want to be connected.

The crowds were crushing, as you’ve heard, the weather was biting, the chaos was, well, chaotic. But I will never forget the feeling of being exalted, as I imagine musicians must feel when their orchestra crescendos, time after time during the small encounters with people who had come from all over America to be part of America.

Maybe this is what soldiers feel – that sense of being a small part of something so much larger than you could ever have imagined, of having pride well in your chest until you surprise yourself by being near tears.

Then, of course, there was the drag of the pure logistics: It was really friggin cold, really friggin crowded, and really friggin chaotic. Just a few days before the Inauguration, friends from LA called to offer me a “silver” ticket, which meant I could stand in the crowd just this much closer to the stage. We arranged to meet outside one of the main Metro stations near the silver entrance at 7:00 am.

On the magic morning, while still dark, following a magical night at the Arab American Inaugural Ball where I got to wear my flowing Syrian long dress and meet Queen Noor for the second time, I inched onto the Red Line with several thousand other people who had the same idea. We packed into the train, respectfully silent but speaking volumes with our smiling accommodation. For some reason, our train did not stop at Federal Center, my rendezvous spot, so I got off early, allowing the sea of humans to carry me through the exit. It took more than ½ hour to get out of the station. And it didn’t matter.

The streets were packed. The sidewalks were packed. There were times the crowd was so tight, I moved only under others’ direction. Sometimes, it was a little scary being that small part of something so much larger than myself, scary losing my personal control.

When I emerged from the Metro, it was still dark. My first view of the Capitol, flags draped from the portico, was just as dawn’s early light broke. I fumbled for my camera, feeling just a bit like Frances Scott Key.

I don’t think I have ever felt quite so patriotic.

I got to my rendezvous spot ½ hour late. I combed the lines for nearly 2 hours looking for my friends, who, it turned out, were stuck underground trying to get into DC on the Green Line from No VA. We never did find each other. Missing both them and the feeling in my feet, I decided to head back to my cozy apt in NW DC.

Alas! The Metro had been reconfigured to dump people into the Mall at that hour, not to take them away. I had to get to the Mall’s opposite side by walking underground through the highway-cum-human river gushing toward me. Moving upstream against something larger than me felt significantly less glamorous.

But, I had had the best of both worlds: I got to watch the Inauguration from under a warm blanket cupping a great latte and I got to – briefly – be part of the most extraordinary crowd I may ever experience. People can be surprisingly incredible when given the chance, and the swell at the Inauguration proved this. Not a single arrest. Really, not a single arrest. People were tired, cold, confused, cranky …certainly I had been! Yet, we each recognized ourselves reflected in each other.

I spend my life working within institutions that resist changing. Yet, there I was, shuffling along with thousands of drowsy, sparkling people as hell-bent on change as I am.

Wherever we had come from, at least, at last, we had finally arrived.

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Category: , Obama Inauguration
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