An extraordinary week

Published 3:52 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What an extraordinary week it has been.

Continued bad news from Wall Street and the economy. The coldest days in years. The inauguration of a new president with all the promise and hope that comes with a changing of the guard. Hours and hours of television coverage showing America’s best talent and reflecting of all the history leading up to this moment.

I have seen and felt enough emotions over the last few days to write a book, much less a weekly column. We are living history. Barack Obama is part of the story, and it is intertwined with the most difficult economic times since the Great Depression. We are at war on multiply fronts with challenges that we have not faced since World War II.

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After two years of sometimes brutal campaigning and endless negative news about our country, for just a few moments we can suspend belief and embrace hope. That is what we are seeing in the historic crowds that are gathering in Washington today for Barack Obama’s inauguration.

It is a day when for just a brief time we can truly believe that we are not a nation divided by political parties, color or economic status. Rather, we are a nation witnessing the orderly transfer of power in a magnificent and majestic way that inspires us to believe that the hope we feel is real.

For black Americans, this is a day that many thought would never come. It is good for our county to reach this milestone and put it behind us. Barack Obama was elected however by tens of millions of white and Hispanic Americans as well. His message of change is also the passing the torch of leadership to a younger generation. For the first time in my life, my president will be younger than I am.

We are one. That is the theme of Obama’ new presidency. How I hope that will be true. I have no illusions about the world we wake up to tomorrow. Obama will hit the walls quickly and our media will point out every misstep. We will hear repeatedly about the all that numbs us and gives us despair.

But for today, if today only, Americans are indeed one. A nation with hope. What a powerful thing that can be.

More good news

Yet none of this is the most important news of the week for me personally, even though it is tied to everything I mentioned above.

Henry, my grandson of 11 months, is going to have a cousin! My youngest daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Grant, are going to have a baby. That means that ML & I are going to have our second grandchild.

The world is changing around us and the most important thing I know is that I have lived long enough to see both of my daughters marry wonderful young men that love, nurture and protect them. God willing, I am about to see them both have their own children and hopefully to watch them experience the joy that ML and I had in raising a family.

There is no disconnect between the blessed news of my second grandchild and the inauguration of Barack Obama. I don’t know what my new grandchild’s name will be. I don’t know what sex he or she will be when they arrive. My prayer is that it will be healthy, just like every grandparent that reads this column wishes for their own.

But the hope I feel for the administration of Barack Obama is more important in the lives of my grandchildren than it is for me. It isn’t just about Wall Street or Iraq. It is about education and living in a state that doesn’t cut the education budget year after year. It is about affordable health care and funded Social Security, dealt with in a way that secures the promises we make to the generations that go before us.

It is about jobs, good sustainable, productive jobs that give meaning and purpose to individual lives and allow all to participate in the fruits of the American dream. It is about energy that is sustainable and will leave our country cleaner and safer. It is about a peaceful world, with all of us feeling safe and secure while at the same time understanding the responsibility that comes with being the world’s greatest superpower.

The success of his presidency is crucial to Henry, my first grandchild, and my second grandchild yet to be named, and any that might follow them. His success is crucial to my friends, my family, my company and all that I know.

The inauguration

Twelve noon. Dr. Rick Warren has just given his prayer for Obama and the nation. Aretha Franklin is singing “My County Tis of Thee” in a way that can’t help but inspire the hearts of anyone listening around the world. Justice John Paul Stevens gives the oath of office to Joe Biden.

Yo Yo Ma, Itzhad Perlman, Anthony McGill and Gabriela Montero perform on violin, cello, clarinet and piano “Air and Simple Gifts” written by John Williams for this occasion, causing all listening to hear the strains of our history written in music, lifting everyone as only music can do.

Chief Justice John Roberts administers the Presidential Oath of Office to Barack Obama.

Just like that, in the space of 10 minutes, with simple words, the leadership of the most powerful nation on earth changed hands.

“Today we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of rebuilding America.”

“The world has changed, and we must change with it.”

“Greatness is not a gift, it must be earned.”

These are some of the first words of our new president.

I will pray for our president as should you all. Pray for this nation to return to its place of leadership around the world. Pray for all our leaders to remain focused and to answer the call for the end of partisanship and the return of statesmanship. And finally, pray for each other as we begin the task of rebuilding America.