President and Accounted For

Seven-thirty on Inauguration Day is day three of a cold. I'm so rarely sick that a cold qualifies as a full-blown malady, even in January. It's terrible timing. From the minute I struggle awake, I know with a far-off sense of alarm that I am not feeling up to history. I am barely up to making coffee and walking dogs, both of which I do in slow motion. It dawns on me with equal slowness that after months of suspense and anticipation, protracted debating and columnizing about race and politics and the collisions and possible outcomes therein, I can't muster the energy on Jan. 20, 2009, to be excited about Barack Obama's impending coronation and the country's new era of change. I had planned to go to some viewing party, share the moment with somebody besides CNN. But on this painfully ordinary day, I'll have to go it alone. I go hunt for Kleenex.

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The phone rings. It's my friend Marilyn. She and her husband are hunkered down in front of their big-screen TV, glued to the big inauguration pre-game show. Marilyn's practically squealing with excitement; she's been in love with Obama for the last six months. "Isn't this something?" she shouts. I agree. I explain that I'm sick. She sympathizes, but invites me over. She hints that I can't possibly let a cold stand in the way of participating in--not merely watching-- this once-in-lifetime-occasion.

I feel myself perk up a little. A hole opens up in my congestion-induced fog and I see a bit of the brilliant daylight the rest of the world must be seeing, even in the 25-degree gloom of D.C. I make a decision. Still wearing my sweats and toting a purse full of Kleenex, I get in the car and make the drive over to Marilyn's. She lives in Westchester, about fifteen minutes from where I am in Inglewood. On the way, I think less about my cold and more about other things. I think about the fact that as a child in the early 70s, I was bused into Westchester from South Central to integrate an elementary school that was nearly all white. I think about how the integration held for a few years before whites left en masse, and the school today is black and Latino with almost no whites at all. I think about how the rightful euphoria over Obama has left almost no room to have conversations about such failed promises of racial justice. Not that we were having them anyhow. But it would be a distinct irony if President Obama didn't revive those conversations or assign them a place in his generous pantheon of concerns for a better and more unified America.

The company of Marilyn and her husband makes me forget the cold almost completely. Listening to Obama's somber address about the mess we're in and the tough times ahead, I feel even better. Got to admit the breadth of the illness before you can talk about a cure. All in all, Day One is a good day.

The image associated with this post was taken by Flickr user Dave Malkoff. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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