Inaugural Voices

Mindful Publisher Jim Gimian and I travelled last week to the Inauguration ceremonies for President Obama as guests of Representative Tim Ryan, author of A Mindful Nation. (Jim and I helped Representative Ryan with the conception, shaping, and promoting of the book; in the second issue of Mindful, PBS NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni profiles Representative Ryan and reports on his work with mindfulness.)

At the inauguration, we joined close to a million people stretching from the west front of the Capitol down the Mall and to the Lincoln Memorial for a great party that I found both uplifting and moving.

It was a momentous moment: America’s first black president was being sworn in for a second term on Martin Luther King Day, fifty years after Dr. King delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the opposite end of the Mall.

Many of the values celebrated in President Obama’s Inaugural Address and echoed in Richard Blanco’s lovely poem were values we celebrate here at Mindful.  Most particularly, the address focused on the understanding that unity emerges out of diversity. Real unity does not come about through creating a sameness that everyone can comfortably rally around. E pluribus unum—out of the many one—expresses how our individuality, our uniqueness, finds its truest expression as part of a larger whole. In this regard, President Obama recalled Dr. King’s proclamation that “our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.” Being mindful includes being mindful of both our independence and our interdependence.

The president spoke of “citizens,” not democrats, republicans, taxpayers, consumers, or wealth-creators. “Taxpayer” and “consumer” are relatively recent words we use to define ourselves. They limit us. In the words of an earlier Presidential inaugural, they ask “what your country can do for you,” not “what you can do for your country.”

During the inaugural, the repeated words “together” and “equal” rung out for a short moment across the country and made some of us feel we are more united by what we share than pulled apart by the ways in which we differ. His voice swelling, in the peroration, the president talked about a journey that is not complete and put forth a phrase that defines what it means to be a citizen: “solemn duty and awesome joy.”

I love that. I want that. I believe in that.

Poet Richard Blanco’s images of sun, wind, earth, sound, sky, and moon connecting the disparate experiences and manifestations of Americans—and of each of us looking at our faces in morning mirrors—complemented President Obama’s themes beautifully, and they painted an arresting mind-picture.

One sun…one ground…one wind…one sky

…one moon like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop

and every window, of one country—all of us…together.

With those words, it felt to me that the space that connects us is not so far away. It’s right at our fingertips.