I’m sitting in my study on an overcast Monday morning. The sun came up a while ago, but went unnoticed by me as I busily wrote in my new journal, sketching out writing goals for 2013 along with ideas, hopes and worries. I’m trying to move forward, you see.
As I covered the fresh, lined pages with scribbles, clusters and words coming from deep inside, the pre-inaugural images played alongside, just intriguing enough to catch my attention occasionally. I watch video from FDR, Reagan and Obama’s past inaugural addresses, and the words, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” catch my ear, just enough to cause me to leave my dreams and listen more intently. JFKflashes, his memorable, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
And then President Obama, reminding us that,“This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence. The knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man, whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant, can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”
These great statements came from men of differing backgrounds, political parties, races and religions. While they varied greatly in their presidencies, they all share the common message of ordinary, everyday courage. I drift away from my own goals, and begin to toss this idea around in my mind.
As today’s American parents, we grew up in the shadow of these words. We trust our children will be safe and return to us as they leave the house each day. We agonize over how to handle their failures and successes in order to nurture them into compassionate, confident human beings. We work hard and try to make good choices to steer our children in the right direction.
Daily, we ask our children to do their best. We ask them to go to school, follow the rules, and face down peer pressure. We believe they will handle puberty, relationships, and their sexuality with maturity. We expect they will work with all teachers, complete projects and assignments with above-average scores, and show their inner warriors on sports teams. They will go to college, graduate and have a career.
And the dreamers – the writers, the musicians, the artists that enhance and elevate our thinking through their imaginations. We are in awe of those spirits who have the audacity to believe that someone else will listen to them, read their words, or look at their dreams as they lay them before us in all their unprotected glory.
As I walked Capitol Mall in 2012 for the first time in my life, images from history books swirled through my mind. I became lost in the stories, the events, and the courage of so many men and women who had stood precisely in my location. Their stories are not all famous, and many have gone unknown amidst the pomp and circumstance of our nation. As I gazed up at the MLK Memorial and read the inscriptions of hope, I realized that they are all there with me, really. Their desires to live and die for their convictions. Their courage in the face of unknown consequences. Their belief of living in the present, and their audacity to hope that somehow, their very existence in this world could bring change and move us forward as a country and a people.
Turning back to the news, I realize I haven’t missed much. The rituals continue, the reporters recall each move of everyone-who-is-anyone in Washington. The people along the parade route cheer, wave, and smile as they catch a glimpse of the President as he drives by. This time, they vow, we were not going to miss it. We will do whatever it takes to be a part of history.
What I think they’re missing is that they already are. Kids, parents, and dreamers who line the Mall today are not only the past, but also the future. FDR, JFK, MLK and Obama are simply the embodiment of the collective courage of America. They are one of billions who walk out their door each day and face extraordinary, everyday courage. It is what we have in common, and what will move us forward as a country.
Have courage. Do what Martin Luther King Jr. asked, and remember, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Have courage. Make history. Move forward.
Jennifer Wolfe is a teacher, mom to two teens, and blogs at mamawolfe.