Inauguration views from a speck on the Mall
A record-breaking crowd of nearly 2 million met on the National Mall to witness the Inauguration of President-elect Barak Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Lauren and I were there. We were two specks in the flag-waving faces on the National Mall.
Whenever the announcer would say, "You can now be seated," the crowd laughed. Where we stood, sitting was a luxury we wouldn't find for hours as more and more people gently pushed their way into the area.
Speeches and announcements boomed from speakers positioned along the soggy grass on the National Mall. If not always the sights, at least the music and the messages of the day's events were audible to those who were tall enough to see and those who huddled between them. When human pillars around us shifted positions, we strained to catch glimpses of the Capitol building or watch sharp shooters on museum rooftops or stare at images flashed on jumbotrons. The large screens displayed politicians and dignitaries as they descended steps within the Capitol and as they appeared from the building.
Although hat, scarf, gloves, coat and boots were hard pressed to provide necessary warmth, at times standing in the tightly packed Mall provided unexpected shelter, so I felt almost warm.
When President-Elect Obama arrived, a swell of cheers filled the air. Although I didn't vote for him, I was interested in what our new President would say and more importantly what he would do in the coming weeks and years.
President Barak Obama shared a stirring speech that was interrupted on several occasions by applause -- at least by those who had space enough to clap. I hoped he and his advisers were up to the enormous tasks that face us as a nation.
Getting home was a challenge
Once the crowd began moving, we decided it was wise to move in the same general direction whenever possible. On occasion, the surge carried us forward and we had to draft our feet to keep up.
We headed to the Metro, not realizing how packed it would be. We spent hours stuck in L'Enfant Plaza. We stood in an underground shopping area beneath office buildings and a hotel in a mall-wide line that seldom moved.
The Mall coralled a good-natured crowd. Whenever we moved more than two steps people cheered. At times the Mall Crawl was light hearted. Someone held up a glove and called for help to reunite a missing pair. Others passed lost gloves forward.
Eventually, the overheated area became uncomfortable. Some people were getting sick. When we reached a hallway with an elevator, Lauren and I escaped to yet another crowded place.
Hallways and public areas of the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel overflowed with refugees from the cold. People stood in lines for Starbucks coffee, for the restaurant, and for restrooms. Huddled people sprawled or slumped along busy corridors.
Eventually we ventured outside for an open air food stand. We returned with Teriyaki Chicken Steak and noodles. Hotel employees were turning away people without room keys, but we found an unguarded door and slipped inside.
We sat on the floor in a corridor. Strangers stopped to ask where we found food. People exchanged stories and the latest news. We were tired of standing and it felt so good to sit down.
We watched as hotel employees closed off hallways and meeting areas in preparation for evening balls. When they herded unregistered guests from upstairs hallways, we knew those of us who were seated along the main floor corridors would also be asked to leave. For the time being, they ignored us. We were grateful for the temporary refuge.
People used cell phones to keep up with the news. Rumors circulated that someone died on the Metro tracks. We later found out a woman fell onto tracks at Gallery Place, a station near L'Enfant Plaza. A quick-thinking officer pushed her out of the way into a recess beneath the platform as a train arrived. She survived.
We never knew if this event or other health emergencies caused Metro delays at L'Enfant Plaza. Perhaps the logistics of huge crowds played a role or it was a combination of things. But, when we heard lines were moving, we headed to the Metro station and home. We arrived safely, tired and glad to have gone to the National Mall to be a small part of the 2009 Inauguration.
Was it worth it?
At the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, one woman said, "I hope Obama appreciates all we've gone through for him." I was thinking, I didn't go through today for Obama.
The Rev. Rick Warren's prayers for the new leadership inspired me: Even small ones, even specs on the great Mall of Life, have a part to play in history as we make it. As a Christian, I can pray. Our leaders need wisdom and grace for the enormous challenges we face.
We're in this together -- for better or worse -- in the corridors of today as we walk and stand, as we jostle or wait, and as we share our journeys along the way.
What do you think? Can we find ways to move in similar directions and at peace with one another for the common good?