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A Reminder of What Is Possible

I have been thinking about Amanda Gorman’s beautiful poem and her stunning performance on January 20 – inauguration day. Her performance was so memorable for some obvious reasons. Ms. Gorman is so remarkably gifted—brilliant, charismatic and poised—and she is just 22 years old.

It was all so breathtaking in part because her poem, her performance and her energy were in such dramatic contrast to all that we have been subjected to over these past four years. Her poem at once told the truth – it acknowledged our violent history, our sins and our wounds—while also (re)assuring us that there was reason for hope. “We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.”

For four years, our politics, our media, our conversation, and our common spaces have been dominated by cruel, mendacious, rapacious, obnoxious, racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, selfish, grandiose, shameless, humorless, grim, amoral, violent, abusive, hateful, authoritarian, manipulative, gas-lighting, incompetent bullies. Trump, William Barr, Stephen Miller, Mitch McConnell, Steve Bannon, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Eugene Scalia, Josh Hawley, Ron DeSantis, Scott Atlas, Larry Kudlow, Mike Pompeo, Roger Stone, Jim Jordan, Mike Pence, the Mercers and the Kochs, and a million heavily armed racist thugs. An incredible parade of soulless bastards, each of them an enemy of peace, justice, equality, fairness, democracy, truth, joy, hope, and empathy. They act as if everything belongs to them.

It has been terrible and traumatic. Like four relentless years of winter.

In exhilarating contrast, the sight, voice, message and performance of Amanda Gorman—a young, vital, brilliant, creative, hopeful, honest, joyful, fearless, charismatic, commanding woman of color—was stunning. Her performance made me (us) cry because it was fantastic, but also because it was such a profound relief.

There have been, of course, countless episodes of heroism, triumph, creativity, empathy, love, hope and joy during these four difficult years. Protesters putting themselves at risk to shine a bright light on the truth, making sure that we don’t obscure this truth yet again, and demanding that we change in fundamental ways; relentlessly pushing, pushing, pushing. Health care workers risking their lives to save the lives of people they don’t know. People finding ways to take care of each other during a raging pandemic.  Artists of all sorts finding ways to create and share their inspiring work

But still … there was something so deeply moving about watching this young, powerful woman of color command that space at that moment, her head held high, in her brilliant yellow coat, in front of the Capitol, looking out on the city of Washington. Looking out on the entire country.  Perhaps the whole world could hear.

This is perhaps trite, but it keeps rising to the top of my mind… It was like the first brilliant flower of spring after a brutal winter. Delightful, breath-taking and inspiring, and a profound relief. And then there is that wonderful moment when we realize that it’s just the first flower, the first of a million flowers. Before we know it, the entire yard, every yard, and every neighborhood will be in bloom—full of brilliant, breathtaking beauty.  Fruit will be falling off the trees, and the signs and smells of life and growth will be everywhere.  Suddenly, for second at least, the possibilities seem endless.

“When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”

There is still a lot of work to do, of course. There is a lot of pain out there. But it feels so good to be hopeful.

Amanda Gorman is brilliant. But man, oh man, were we ready for her.

And Trump and his posse have been so revolting. And man, oh man, are we ready to be done with them.

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