Jan 20

Carpe Diem


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My friend Salma Ali is my inspiration. She is a gifted writer, mother and human being. She wrote this after debating on whether or not to go down and be a part of the chaos at the Mall in Washington DC (Saanya is her daughter, photo above):

"Given the opportunity to be present, or watch from a
distance, I will always chose to be there. Today
sealed it. 

As of 10 am this morning, we still hadn't decided.  My
mind kept repeating my to do list: a family wedding to
prepare for; kids' shoes to buy; phone calls to make
for an upcoming fundraiser.  Plus it was freezing; and
how would we go anyway.  But my heart kept shouting,
how could we not.

The stars aligned. And by 1:00 pm, Saanya and I were
on the Mall, layered and ready (shoes had been bought,
Nadia's purse found at last, calls made en route, and
Zayd dropped off with Arif at his office).

The setting was beyond majestic. The soaring
Washington Monument to the North, Lincoln's solemn
gaze to the South - and in between, a sea of white,
black, Latino, Asian, Native American, young and old,
rich and poor, gay and straight, disabled and not:
Obama's America -- no, our America -- stretched as far
as the eye could see. 

We were each there for our own reasons. Some to
witness. Some to heal. All to hope.  Together, under a
slate-gray sky.

Everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. People
were smiling and polite, accommodating and
collaborative.  When I wanted to get a picture of the
sea of humanity but wasn't tall enough to see head
tops, Michael, a young boy of 7 or 8 perched on his
dad's shoulders said he would take pictures for me,
and snapped some of my best shots of the day. When
Saanya and I decided to extricate ourselves from our
spot to go climb a tree and get another perspective,
people seemed to take a deep breath in, forming a
slight enough opening to allow us to sidestep our way
to the street.  

If the below freezing temperatures didn't bring a tear
to your eyes, the music and sentiments definitely did.
Denzel Washington set the theme:  "We come here
knowing that we are all in this together," he said.
"We are one!" Then the Boss entered, stage left.
Dressed in black, with a hundred-plus red-robed choir
behind him, he sang "The Rising", his post-9/11 balm
that became a campaign anthem.  Mary J. Blige, in
cream and snakeskin blending in with the marble around
her, sang "Lean on Me", and the crowd of almost
500,000 started swaying, arms outstretched, as the
concert theme started playing itself out. 

Soul singer Bettye LaVette teamed up with Jon Bon Jovi
to sing "Change is Gonna Come", and Jamie Foxx brought
the Obamas to their feet by urging Chicagoans to make
some noise: "Chi-town, stand up!" he demanded, and
then launched into an impersonation of the
president-elect.   Saanya and I shrieked as Bono came
on stage, remembering just a few months ago when we
talked to him in the south of France.  One of the most
touching remarks for me was an offhand comment by
comic George Lopez:  "Anyone here from out of town?,"
he asked.  "Well, you're home now."

The star-studded lineup continued -- Stevie Wonder,
Usher, Garth Brooks, Cheryl Crowe, Beyonce -- and our
emotions rose and swirled with each song, each word,
like the snowflakes that dusted the air that
afternoon.

But the A-list lineup was not why we were there.  This
was much bigger than that. 'Historic',
'transformational', 'never in my lifetime' were the
words on everyone's lips. Some couldn't find the
words; they simply cried or nodded their head in
disbelief.   

The geography moved me.  This is where Martin Luther
King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in
1963.  More than two decades earlier, Marian Anderson
came to these steps to sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee"
after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused
to let her sing at Constitution Hall. This is where
Lincoln sits, keeping a watchful eye on our nation's
ideals and actions.  

And today Obama stood on this majestic stage and said
these words:  "As I stand here tonight, what gives me
the greatest hope of all is not the stone and marble
that surrounds us today, but what fills the spaces in
between. It is you - Americans of every race and
region and station who came here because you believe
in what this country can be and because you want to
help us get there. ... You proved once more that people
who love this country can change it. And as I prepare
to assume the presidency, yours are the voices I will
take with me every day I walk into that Oval Office -
the voices of men and women who have different stories
but hold common hopes; who ask only for what was
promised us as Americans - that we might make of our
lives what we will and see our children climb higher
than we did."

There are times in one's life when you have to put
practicality and common sense aside, and just go with
what feels good and right.  Many will say it's easier
to watch on TV.  Perhaps. But sometimes you just have
to be somewhere. Because only when you're there can
you touch someone's hand and feel the connection; only
when you're there can you smile at a complete stranger
and know it's going to be alright; only when you're
there can you look someone in the eye and see your own
reflection.  Yes, it's going to be cold out there.
Yes, the crowds are going to be enormous. Yes, it's
going to take hours to get in, and the security
checkpoints will be long, and the porta-potties
stinky.  

I'll see you on the Mall on Tuesday."

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