Today is a great day to be an American, and a strange day to be leaving America.
Yesterday Anna’s dad called her to remind her to watch the inauguration (“It’s a historic event!”) and she said, “Yeah, Chiara’s here and our plans for tomorrow include watching it,” and even though we got up a little late, I saw most of the speech and the benediction streaming and then watched the whole thing over again on video as I was checking my Facebook friends’ status updates the way I did on Election Night. Anna and I smiled at the mention of “data and statistics” and “patchwork heritage” and we both went “WOW” when Obama mentioned unbelievers and spoke directly to poor nations and to Muslims. I nodded when he talked about consuming the world’s resources and about setting an example and about how we have to change with a changing world. I got angry, when I watched Rick Warren’s invocation, at his smarminess, but I liked the benediction a lot better. I noticed there was no mention of gay people or gay rights anywhere in any of the speeches, although a bit about tolerance here and there. I loved watching Michelle Obama, whom I just think is awesome and smart and gorgeous and reminds me a lot of my mom. I checked out the awesome new White House site and wrote a little note of congratulations, feeling oddly teary the whole time.
“This is all very planned, very specific,” said Anna, listening to the pastor who gave the benediction. “It’s weird to think that the messages the President is sending are ones that I agree with.” We laughed about how we’ve flinched whenever we’ve seen the American flag before, sort of hunching our shoulders and thinking “Uh oh, this isn’t going to be good,” and now suddenly it’s like, “Oh wait hey that’s MY flag this is MY country! It’s okay!” and then Tracy texted me saying basically the same thing. “Am I feeling…patriotic?” I replied?
I think I am, for maybe the first time since I began to be aware of and to participate in politics, which was during the 2000 elections. I voted for Bill Clinton in 1996 when I was 21 years old but I didn’t know anything about the election process and just sort of did it because you’re supposed to vote, right, and my family was basically liberal and that was that. By the time 2000 rolled around I was in social work grad school and there was no way to avoid politics even though the blogs were just getting started and I was just beginning to understand that what I read on the front page of the newspaper actually had something to do with me personally, me specifically. I still remember going to bed that election night in my freezing cold basement room in a little gray and green house in Wedgwood in Seattle not knowing how it was going to go….and then going home for Christmas still not knowing how it was going to go.
And so many other things—Ashley calling me early in the morning telling me to call my dad in New York because a couple of planes has crashed into the World Trade Center, the war that started on my birthday, the assertion, over and over again, that questioning the Administration on anything—wiretapping, Homeland Security, privacy, healthcare, anything—was treason, the sick feeling when everything about Abu Ghraib came out and I realized that man, we have no idea what’s really going on. Even stuff like my complete inability to listen to George W. Bush speak, at all or to physically look at him on TV, or being confronted with all the negative things about my nationality while living abroad, understanding that what my country does affects pretty much everyone and feeling sick and sad and wrong about all those negative have things, feeling like I didn’t want to be associated at all. And certainly feeling like there was nothing I could do to make any difference—that the people in charge basically hated me and would never listen to anything that was important to me.
And all that feels different, now, today. I don’t think I’ll ever be a flag-waver, honestly, but I’m feeling inexpressibly proud of my country today, and of the feeling that it’s my country. Practically speaking I still think President (eeee!) Obama is a pretty standard-issue politician and certainly not anything resembling a liberal messiah. I know he’s going to fail me, fail us, fail everyone. I know I will grumble about politics just about as much now as I have done in the past. I know it’s going to still be a little strange to be an American abroad. But something has changed, some tide has been turned, I think. I hope. And regardless of anything else, I can’t help feeling overjoyed that the last eight years are over, that Bush is on his way back to Texas and that he can’t hurt anyone anymore.
And so in five hours I get on the plane to Auckland. America is going, maybe, in some interesting new directions, but I am going in the opposite one, for who knows how long. Who knows what my national identity will look like, the longer I’m away from that nation. I’ve been thinking about this day—the day Barack Obama becomes my president and the day I go back to New Zealand–for so long that I don’t even think about it consciously anymore, and I do and don’t know what to expect from this year, when everything, personal and political and everywhere in between, is changing for everyone.