Watching the inauguration last week, I felt I was witnessing a mythic event, something so deeply symbolic that my rational mind couldn’t begin to fathom it all.
A ceremony taking place in front of a Capitol building so recently stormed by insurrectionists under the spell of conspiracy theories, clinging to the obsolete ideology of white supremacy, and seeking to overturn a democratic election.
Lady Gaga, larger than life, donning an enormous dove pin, proclaiming with the full power of her voice as the sun broke through the clouds that the stars and stripes had endured the perilous night.
The prophetic words of a young Black poetess downloading into us a vision of what we as a nation can be, and will be if we have the courage to be it.
A woman—a multi-racial daughter of immigrants at that—sworn into national office for the first time.
A compassionate man, unafraid to show his vulnerabilities and shed his tears, taking his place at the helm of a battered, traumatized and grieving nation.
And for me, an odd sense of gratitude for Donald Trump who had somehow managed to reinvigorate our democracy by trying to destroy it.
What was being evoked in me last Wednesday was more than patriotism, which seems much too provincial for this moment of global crisis. What was being evoked was a future that is asking to become a lived reality in our midst. And the essence of that future seemed to be the many that are one.
E pluribus unum.
On the evening of Inauguration Day, a term came to me quite spontaneously to depict what the past four years have been for us as a nation: The Great Wreckoning.
We have witnessed so much wreckage of our democratic norms and of our social fabric that we have been catapulted into a great reckoning. We have been forced to see all the ways in which racism and injustices of all kinds have gone unheeded and unaddressed, how the injuries of the past have been allowed to continue.
And now we know that our future as a nation—and as a human family—depends upon each of us doing the work that is ours to do. Grieving work. Restorative work. Healing work. Visionary work.
Our elected leaders will not and cannot create this future for us because it will be spawned within each of us, and from the depths of our own beingness will take on form in our behaviors, relationships, structures and institutions. There is no trickle down here. The new world that wants to arise is an inside job.
We know that not everyone is ready to welcome this future, that many, in fact, are afraid of it. Be that as it may, it is coming, and we can hasten it by revisiting time and time again the vision that Amanda Gorman set before us. To revisit it until it has seeped into our very cells—until it has become us, and we have become it.
The Hill We Climb
When day comes we ask ourselves
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast;
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.
And the norms and notions of what just is
Isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it;
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.
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 we aren’t striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge a union with purpose,
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, 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.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew,
That even as we hurt, we hoped,
That even as we tired, we tried,
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious—
Not because we will never again know defeat
But because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision
That everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time,
then victory won’t lie in the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promised glade,
The hill we climb if only we dare it.
Because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded,
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust,
For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
But within it we found the power
To author a new chapter,
To offer hope and laughter,
To ourselves sow. While once we asked:
How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert: How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was,
But move to what shall be,
A country that is bruised but whole,
Benevolent but bold,
Fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation
Because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might and might with right,
Then love becomes our legacy
And change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
With every breath of my bronze pounded chest,
We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lakeland cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sunbaked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
In every known nook of our nation,
In every corner called our country,
Our people, diverse and beautiful,
Will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
Aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.