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1/20/09 Inauguration Special Edition

The Country Director for Peace Corps/Morocco gave us all permission to travel to the nearest way-to-watch-the-inauguration (high speed internet, cable tv, etc), so a group of us planned to watch it together at the home of the only person in the region with a functioning satellite TV.

I got there in the early afternoon. The coverage had already started - it was around 9 or 10 in DC - but so far, it was just dignitaries filing in. I did get to see Michelle and Barack go into the White House for "coffee", and grinned to see that Michelle was carrying a hostess present. Now that's a classy lady.

About a dozen of us had gotten together for the big event. Some were outside, throwing around a football; some were in the kitchen, preparing pizza and cheeseburgers. (Presidential inaugurations require classic American food, naturally!) I floated around a bit, watching some coverage, hanging out... It was bitterly cold, so I didn't spend much time with the footballers, and eventually, around 4 - 11am in DC - I settled down in front of CNN. There were only two other people in there. Someone poked their head into the living room to ask why we were already watching, when nothing that important was happening yet.

I answered, "Because the surrounding ceremony is part of it. Think about the Oscars. When you watch the whole thing, you're excited and thrilled for the Best Picture winner. But when you just read the listings the next morning, it's pretty meaningless." I thought about something a friend had once said, about the need for ritual to emphasize sacredness. She was defending ornate church ceremonies, but made excellent points about the role of context. There's a reason it feels different to go to an opera or symphony, all dressed up in a gorgeous hall, than to listen to a recording of the same performance on your iPod.

And I wanted The Whole Experience, cheezy coverage and all.

Plus, it was fun to get to see all the ex-Presidents and ex-First Ladies. I'm pretty cut off from the news much of the time, so I didn't know that, for instance, Cheney is in a wheelchair and Bush (41) recently had back surgery. Learning those things made me feel...more connected, somehow.

Then, around 4:30 our time, Senator Feinstein kicked off the proceedings, and more and more people began drifting into the living room. There was commentary and side-conversation all around me, so I didn't catch every word, but that was OK; sharing the experience with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers was worth more to me than hearing every syllable.

When Biden was sworn in, several people asked, "What happens if Bush (43) dies right now? Will Biden finish out his term?" Nobody knew, but the consensus answer was that since the rest of Bush's term was something under 20 minutes, it really didn't matter. :)

And then came Obama's swearing-in. We all smiled as little Sasha climbed up onto her platform. Someone - I'm not sure - said, "He's just so human!" When Chief Justice Roberts and President [no longer -Elect, as of noon, which had come and gone, I think during Rick Warren's address] Obama fumbled various words in the oath, the sentiment was echoed.

There was applause, cheering, and general celebration, which all quieted down when President Obama (President Obama!! President Obama!! We get to say President Obama now!!) began his inaugural address.

My friend's living room is pretty big, but we'd all crowded in to have room on the ponges and to have a good view of the TV, so I was pressed up close to the PCVs on either side of me. One, I'd hugged during the swearing in, and then just hung on to throughout the speech. I gripped the hand of the other, too. I needed the tangible reminders that This Is Real, not a dream or a wish or a hope, but Reality, unfolding before my eyes. Also, I was brimful with a thousand emotions - hope, relief, pride, joy, excitement, awe, humility, just to name a few - and wanted to share them with my beloved Peace Corps family. Plus, I've always been a hugger. :)

At the end of the address, there was more celebration. Many of us had tears in our eyes; some were openly weeping.

And then came the pizza and cheeseburgers, and there was great rejoicing.

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