On January 20, 2021, my eyes were glued to the TV screen. I was looking forward to witnessing a uniquely American tradition: the peaceful transfer of power from one president and his administration to another president and his new administration. There was some concern, however, that this traditionally upbeat ceremony might be disrupted by violence, given the events of January 6.
Thankfully, a peaceful transfer took place, and there was no violence. But for safety and pandemic reasons, and by design, it was a sparsely attended affair and one that was guarded by thousands of National Guard members. The number of deployed troops, about twenty five thousand, reminded me of Syria, the country of my birth where peaceful transfer of power never happens.
For the first time in more than 150 years, the outgoing President chose not to attend. But we experienced a first: the swearing-in of Kamala D. Harris as the first female Vice President, whose parents were immigrants of a mixed Black and South-Asian ancestry. Being an immigrant and a father of five daughters, I was proud to witness that.
Frankly, I was not surprised that a peaceful transfer of power took place. I have always had faith in the American Democracy. I always thought that my adopted Country is different from all others. It is a country where The Constitution is respected and where Democratic principles are strictly upheld. It is a Country where the rule of law applies equally to everyone. I refused to accept that a mob who stormed the Temple of our Democracy would be able to change the course of American History. But let us face the fact that we are a People divided and polarized …
I was, however, rather surprised by a young person who reminded me of the reasons I chose to come to the USA and become an American Citizen. Freedom. Optimism. Courage. Grace. Can-Do attitude. Youth. Future … and an Ideal Country where everything is possible. This individual stepped-up to the podium in a bright yellow coat, a beautiful red headband, and a mile-wide smile. (I made a mental note to buy six red headbands, one for each of my granddaughters.) She was self-assured. Her presence was like a ray of sunshine.
Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old, National Youth Poet Laureate, was amazing. And I loved her poem “The Hill we Climb.” I enjoyed watching her impeccable delivery and her hand gestures. She reminded me of Arturo Toscanini, the genius and yes, exacting orchestra conductor. I thought of Robert Frost at the age of 86 when he recited his poem “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of our first Catholic President John F. Kennedy in 1963. She did not seem to be intimidated by the solemn occasion or by the circumstances. She did not avoid tackling what happened on January 6. She faced it. Her youth and grace were a major advantage.
Yes, Amanda Gorman reminded me of the America I dreamed about as I grew up in Syria.
“Where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.”
During his inauguration, Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Gorman told us what we need to do for our country:
“We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be”
“If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright”
“let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with.”
I was surprised and amazed to learn that Amanda Gorman, much like Joseph R. Biden Jr, our new President, suffered from a speech impediment that plagued her even when she was a college student. Perhaps this is the reason she made this observation:
“That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried”
“We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be”
With wisdom uncommon for someone her age, she explained that we have a hill to climb
“if only we dare”
“because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it“
She told us that
“the Dawn is ours”
“The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it”
Yes, “The Hill we Climb” together will lead us to …
“rebuild, reconcile and recover”
We can do it. We must do it!