Monday, January 21, 2013

Second inaugural

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience,
but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
-- MLK, Jr.

It was so moving to watch President Barack Obama being sworn in for a second term. Like watching history happening in real time. And on this day -- a day where our nation honors the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. It couldn't have been a happier coincidence. 

Moments like these remind me how thankful I am for this country. How proud I am to be an American. My father and mother looked West and saw a land of limitless opportunities. They left behind families, childhood friends, college degrees and familiarity and adopted a new way -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They left Korea with empty pockets but built a beautiful life here in the US.

My brother and I stood on their shoulders and now we each have our own children, who will stand on ours.

This part of President Obama's inaugural speech spoke to me:

That is our generation's task — to make these words, these rights, these values — of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness — real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time.
Progress requires us to "act in our time." I love that. This is our call as citizens of this wonderful experiment called democracy. 

One Day
Inaugural Poem by Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
over the Smokies, greeting the faces 
of the Great Lakes, spreading 
simple truth
 across the Great Plains, then charging across the
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story

told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors, 

each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights, 
fruit stands: 
apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows 
begging our 
praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, 
teeming over highways alongside us,
 on our way to clean tables, 
read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries 
as my mother did 
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
 the same 
light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
 equations to 
solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, 
the "I have a dream" 
we keep dreaming,
 or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that 
won't explain
 the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light 
breathing color 
into stained glass windows,
 life into the faces of bronze statues, 
 onto the steps of our museums and park benches 
mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
 of corn, 
every head of wheat sown by sweat
 and hands, hands gleaning 
coal or planting windmills
 in deserts and hilltops that keep us 
warm, hands 
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands 

as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane 
so my brother and I 
could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains 
mingled by one 
wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it 
through the day's gorgeous 
din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony 

of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways, 
the unexpected song 
bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, 
or whispers 
across café tables, Hear: the doors we open 
for each other all days 
saying: hello, shalom, 
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me—in every language 
spoken into 
one wind carrying our lives
 without prejudice, as these words break 
from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
 their majesty,
and the Mississippi and Colorado worked 
their way to the sea. 
Thank the work of our hands:
 weaving steel into bridges, finishing 
one more report
 for the boss on time, stitching another wound 
uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
 or the last floor on the 
Freedom Tower
 jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes 
tired from work:
some days guessing at the weather
 of our lives, some days giving 
thanks for a love 
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother

who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
 who couldn't give what 
you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
 of snow, or the 
plum blush of dusk, but always—home, 
always under one sky, our sky. 
And always one moon 
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop 
every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars 
hope—a new 
 waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Following the inauguration, President Obama takes one last look at the crowd,
an estimated 800,000 people, before heading into the Capitol.