There’s no one magic moment in life that turns everything around–that makes everything 100% good. But today the inauguration of the 46th president and vice-president of the United States makes great strides toward light, hope, and good. Today decries the past four years of hatred and discrimination, of lies and promotion of cult groups who believe in those lies, and in propaganda that fuels the hate. I realized, as I watched the inauguration, that in my life–now decades long–I have seen the country of my birth grow, not without pains but generally with leadership that we rely on and trust to make the right decisions that bring us forward to a place that progress deems, where all people are truly created equal. The past four years took that backward. Made America hate again. I admit to falling into fatigue and sometimes feeling frozen. How could anyone like Trump be sworn into the highest office in my country? How could someone that hateful, divisive, narcissistic, and downright stupid get there? The Guardian today said, “He left a scene of deflation in his wake.” That’s exactly how I feel.
I’ve never been the type to put people on pedestals. I don’t idolize influencers, celebrities, or politicians. Many of them make everything about them and have unhealthy delusions of self-importance and competition. I admire those who don’t do that, and I think we can agree that Biden and Harris aren’t about themselves but about others, regardless of who they are, what color they are, what orientation they are, what they believe, what ethnicity they are. Why does it feel that we’ve been lacking that leadership for decades, when in actuality it has been only four years? (I recognize that this kind of pattern is more than four years long; it’s just that is was driven by an unfit president.) That four years seems like a lifetime. I am beyond happy that it’s over at the presidential level. At times I’ve been paralyzed in idleness, with an inchoate inability to move forward myself. I felt that the world turned fuzzy, like it was dissolving.
That fugue state didn’t stop me though. It challenged me and others. Personally I was motivated in the past four years: To march with millions of women in Washington DC in January 2017. To continue to write about and exalt the natural wonder and beauty of this planet. To move 4000km at the start of a global pandemic so that we could afford to buy a house with land and plant trees and provide wildlife a place to forage and pollinate. To be more energy conscious, installing solar panels and an energy efficient wood stove as well as driving an electric vehicle. To call my mother on Friday nights and find out about old family history and cherish the time she is still on this Earth. To speak out against bullying and harassment. To not let others get me down for very long. To receive the wonderful gift of a guitar and begin to learn new songs, chords. To start running again, albeit slowly and carefully as to not injure my foot again. To plant trees and grow vegetables and flowers, moving dirt across the two-acre yard, getting dirty and sweaty on humid June days while black flies swarm about my face, arms, and legs. To listen to crickets and bullfrogs on soft summer nights and celebrate with friends and good food during bonfires in our back meadow. To help in the making of furniture. What about yours? The paralyzed statue comes to life.
Another thing I can do without is great fanfare, prayers, and high-class formality. But today, today…as I watched the inauguration, I realized how for once I appreciated the ritual, especially after strife and ugliness tried to ruin our democracy and our home. Is this what it feels like to get older? I guess I realized that this celebration and fanfare is sacred as it upholds what is dear to almost everyone, holds dear what we began to lose. The security and military needed to be there, as so often, but particularly recently, we know that ugly people have threatened our capitol, whether external or internal terrorists. From a goofy person who usually snickers at such pomp, I felt close to tears today, realizing that I took such democratic oath for granted all my life. Seeing it disappear brought back the importance of it. I was especially moved by Rev. Dr. Sylvester Beaman’s benediction, and thought of other personalities I’ve known who would have such emotion and words. One of them being my Dad. As usual, I wondered what he would think if he were alive today? Also, Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” slayed me. And during that I did cry. The customs of inauguration might be as formal as always–but of course now with Covid, they’ve changed a little. But how beautiful it was to see this inauguration evolve to an era that I think we should have started at long ago but are still learning about. Ugly truths still remain, as will they always. And that represents the hill we continue to climb. But, like Kimberly Atkins tweeted, “I am so feeling this historic moment of Black and Brown excellence.” And like Mike Laslo said of Kamala Harris: she just destroyed like ten glass ceilings.
Pardon my soliloquy, but as a matter of ritual, I also think of nuances of growing up in America. The beauty of front porches and stoops, which served as gathering places. The graceful Victorian homes in small town Indiana, where I grew up, which served as places to house those escaping in the Underground Railroad. The simple sound of crickets and bullfrogs calling on a summer night. Running around a yard full of lightning bugs as children. Getting an ice-cream cone at the local Big Dipper on a hot evening, with June bugs and moths flitting against the lights in front of the stand. The old brick of my college campus, surrounded by green lawns and fountains, where people played guitar and lounged, freely splayed out on the prickly grass, without abandon, studying. The way my mammaw used to sit in her yard with friends or relatives, snapping beans to dry for shucky beans. The way she hung dried gourds in her windows in the sunlight. And how she got baptized in a creek. My pappaw smoking his rolled cigarettes on the front porch, telling me endless stories. I sat at his feet as if he were Jesus. The pure hilarity of family gatherings, whether I was a child or adult, and the bursts of laughter as well as the seriousness of chatter about dreams and regrets. The family reunions, particularly well-attended and full of good southern food when I was a child, back when people lived closer to each other and were a part of each others’ lives, before we began sharing shallow glimpses online through social media. The many times driving to Louisville and beyond, to visit grandparents and cousins. The feeling of crossing the bridge over the Ohio River and feeling like I was going back into time. Church. I’m not religious, and I don’t attend church, but it was part of my growing up and I remember the hymns. The gathering of Sunday lunches after church or the long drives out to the country. Seeing two hogs mate for the first time and asking Mom, What are they doing? My dad, like his dad, loved gospel music and he would dance around or sing at the top of his lungs at the mostly Black Keystone Baptist Church in Chicago, where we attended as my parents occasionally worked in a tutoring program there and made great friends with the congregation. That church, by the way, is given a nod in my newest book Bird Song. The way my father early on welcomed immigrants working for his company in our small, conservative town. It expanded our culture, and we got introduced to some wonderful food.
Railroad tracks and the way freight trains sounded so haunting at night. Running like mad children and adults through the trails at Turkey Run and Shades. Embracing the outdoors in all its essence whether at lakes in Wisconsin, cross-country skiing in quiet forests, horseback riding through the Arizona desert, repelling down cliffs, white-water rafting on the Wolf River–always, always being outside among the trees, mountains, lakes, and rivers, dirt creeping into our fingernails and imagination freeing us from the more human side of civilization. Moonlight solitude at a lake up north or sitting alone one Christmas, high and far away from family, as a younger adult, watching snow diamonds whip around me as if in an oneiric scene. Harlem jazz. Blues and rock and roll. Appalachian fiddle music. Concerts in smoky ballrooms and under the stars. Chicago lakeshore. Choir and guitar and flute and violin, and a little piano–all us kids. Ice-skating at Spring Rock, running track, my first kiss, which meant nothing. My first beer, which meant nothing. Later kisses and beer meant more. Best friends, still in touch on Zoom. The slow, long plains upon which golden rays of sunshine painted with a sanguine brush. The solo trips out West, lingering in Utah heat and red rocks, dust storms, and cooling at the Colorado River. California and surf culture and a wild outburst of poetry, song, art, and fiction. BBQ in Kansas City and stately old homes. Nuthin’ better than a barbeque’d pulled pork with a side of plain white bread and a pickle. The mingling of all people, all ways of life. Not being afraid to hire a gay editor at my first job out of college, no matter the more conservative thoughts around me. Climbing the Appalachian hills, endlessly, with cousins and siblings. Celebrating life. I bring this all with me as an adult into my Canadian life, which, has close family ties, maybe even more so, with all the reunions and camp trips we’ve done up here. And Canada, that’s another story for another day, though a lot of it is already preserved in this blog.
I have redacted more personal things about me, realizing I am not ready to share them quite yet.
All has not been good with America either. People go hungry. Every day. People are tortured and killed. Every day. Children are abused and neglected. Every day. People of color do not get the same privilege as white people. Every day. It means being afraid to do many things. Every day. LGBTQ+ people are also afraid to live as themselves. Every day. America is not “First”…it is only one among many. It had no right to bomb Hiroshima. It had no right to test bombs on islands where native people’s lives were decimated. It had no right to capture Africans for slavery. Conquest and assimilation were never the right way, neither in the name of progress or religion. Native Americans still suffer poverty and discrimination. Every Day. Poverty, homelessness, murder, and lack of education happen. Every day. Proud Boys can leave, really. We don’t need white nationalism nor more hatred nor any of that thing where gods, guns, and gold dictate ideologies that call for some shady idea of freedom but instead dream of lynching others or frightening others into corners.
Today, however, was a candle in the darkness. My husband lit a small fire this morning to warm our house. Outdoors it is blue and sunny and cold. It is time for me to relieve myself of the fatigue that wore me out during the past four years, to celebrate Trump’s leaving, and to continue on the path of life as it should be.
The featured image is of Amanda Gorman reciting her poem at the inauguration. You can read the entire poem at Macleans, but a portion of it is:
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny black girl
Descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
Can dream of becoming president
Only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
But that doesn’t mean that we are
striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, characters and
conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know to put our future first
We must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
So we can reach out our arms
To one another.