Four years ago, I was in a choir that performed during a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at William Jewell College. It was Inauguration Eve, and I remember the thick anticipation that hovered above the congregation. I remember getting chills over and over as the largely African-American crowd sang, "We Shall Overcome," changing the shall to have. I remember thinking, This is huge.
Months earlier I had shaken Joe Biden's hand at a rally at Jewell, while I was still undecided in my first election as a legal, registered voter. Since then, I had been in heated debates, I had been accused of holding beliefs I didn't, I had spent hours researching my choices, and I had felt dizzy with excitement as I marked my ballot and mailed it in.
In 2009, I watched the Inaugural Ceremonies from a couch on the third floor in Melrose Hall. I marveled at Aretha's hat, and I felt a lump rise in my throat as Barack Obama gave his inaugural address.
In 2013, I was privileged with a seat. I felt drunk off the heady atmosphere, giddy to be witnessing the best pomp and circumstance our country has to offer. It's rare to feel as though you've witnessed history happen. Someday, my children will learn about President Obama, and I'll tell them I saw him once. They will think I'm a dinosaur, but a really cool dinosaur who once did cool things.
I'll also mention that I saw Beyonce, only after I sprinted to and from the port-a-potties during the poet and the last guy who prayed. I'm probably less cultured and less spiritual for it, but I saw Beyonce. I crouched on a riser in front of another spectator, snapping pictures and crying.
Just as it's rare to feel as though you've witnessed history, it's rare to feel an acute sense of identity and belonging that compares to the intense patriotism that surges at such a moment. I did my fair share of crying during the Olympics last summer, but these Beyonce-inspired tears seemed to come from my gut. From the place that harbors my nationality, my sense of home, my ever-increasing love for my country-- regardless of the politics, corruption, and malaise that has overshadowed the hope so many continue to find within her borders.
Call it idealism, naiveté, or ignorance, but Monday's ceremonies (and even the protester in the tree) provided example after poignant example of the beautiful freedom we enjoy, and it's a day I'll keep in my memory for the rest of my life.
All photos taken by me with a Nikon D90 on January 21, 2013.