Over the last few months, every so often I would turn to Noel, apropos of nothing, and say: "Our next president is Barack Obama." And every time it sounded so implausible. A black man with a foreign name; how the heck did this guy get elected? How did the American electorate overcome all the reasons not to vote for him -- and vote for him?
I know the answers. On the one hand, things were so bad, so astoundingly bad, that a black guy with a foreign name was preferable to more of the same. On the other, a singular political voice with the power to inspire came on the scene suddenly and changed the entire equation. And yet despite all the sense that makes, the outcome never ceased to astound me.
Today as I watched the inauguration, letting out involuntary whoops and fist-pumps in my empty living room, I wondered whether this is all truly as extraordinary as it seems. Is it just me, or does the joy surrounding this election, this inauguration, the promise of this presidency seem to emanate not just from one party or one race, but from the country as a whole? Doesn't the celebration appear to be all-encompassing, transcending all the myriad reasons for rejoicing and coalescing in one singularity of hope and triumph? Isn't it like everyone, all at once, sees a new age dawning?
I'm aware that this isn't strictly true. I'm surrounded by people in Arkansas who went the other way, in larger numbers than they did in 2000 or 2004. Yet it seems to me that the emotion isn't just relief that it's over, or resignation that it hopefully won't be too bad, but an active sense of thrust, of movement, of people swinging onto the train as it chugs purposefully toward something new.
Those who drive history forward, the President said, are "the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things." Today I want to be in that number. And let all the people say -- amen.