Monday, January 19, 2009

Not so much about France today.

Today, dear readers, I am going to reveal to you that our home in America is in Washington, D.C. When we moved to Washington from California, years ago, we were excited about living near all the national monuments and museums. With time, we began to consider our home conveniently located for protest marches. We were there for the Million Moms; we were there for the marches against the war in Iraq; we were there for the March for Women's Lives. E and G are old hands at marches. They know where all the best museum bathrooms are on the National Mall.

We haven't raised our girls in the church, or in a synagogue. We have tried to teach our daughters to respect the dignity and value of human life, and to believe in love and hope, and to be kind and compassionate and thoughtful. I told my driving instructor, 'Arry, recently that, instead of bringing the girls up in a church, we have brought them up in the Gospel of Bruce Springsteen. (He liked that.) One time E and I were walking along in front of the White House, in one of the war protests in the winter of 2003, and she was singing Springsteen's song, Into the Fire. (She was eight.) She stopped singing mid-chorus, looked up at me and said: Strength, faith, hope, love. Mama, why doesn't Mr. Bush believe in those things?

He just sees the world differently, I said. At least, I hope that's what I said.

Last night C used some perhaps not wholly above board software that he got from a friend to fool our computer into thinking that it was sitting in the United States and thus able to pick up the signal for HBO's broadcast of the Obama Inaugural Concert. We had been raquetting--snowshoeing--up in the mountains in the morning. We came home and built a fire in the fireplace. C connected the computer to the television set, fiddled around a bit, and, miracle of miracles, there was the Lincoln Memorial.

We sat in our French salon for the next two hours and watched and listened. So much hope and goodwill. Living abroad, it's not obvious to me how to show my girls what a moment this is for our country. Were we in the States now, we could have taken them to the Mall yesterday, could take them tomorrow, and show them the thousands of other grateful, joyful people. We could be volunteering today for Dr. King day, instead of just taking a bag of outgrown but still good clothes to the local semi-equivalent of Goodwill. (I know it's not much, but it's a nod toward community service.) Here, though, few of their English and French classmates are even aware of the inauguration, and their teachers don't have much to say about it. Our friends are French and English: they are happy about the change in administration, but it's not their country.

How do we show our girls that this is different from the other times, and that we've not seen the like of this before? This Land is Your Land is one of the songs they learned as babies. It's a car song in our family, as it probably is in many. In our family it comes with a conversation about Woody Guthrie, and the Great Depression, and folk music, and how you sing to protest and to mobilize and to try to change the world, and sometimes it works but often it doesn't. The girls know the scratchy, fading Woody Guthrie version, and the hoarse, minor key Springsteen version, and, this fall, I started slipping the Pete Seeger version, all earnestness and singing along, onto the iPod. Because it's more than a car song; it's a song about what we aspire to mean when we say we're American. It's a song about "the country we carry in our hearts."

The Lincoln Memorial is the first memorial we took the girls to when we moved to Washington, and the one we've visited most often. We used to go and talk about slavery, about the Civil War, about Dr. King, and about strength, faith, hope and love. And so last night, when Mr. Obama spoke, standing on those steps where we've stood and talked about our country, that would have been enough. I think the solemnity and power of it would have sparked a connection. But then the set changed, and there was music, and not just any music. This Land is Your Land, with two of the singers and thinkers and activists who've helped us get our girls this far. And the country we have carried in our hearts all this time seems closer.


  1. We are from California and live in Washington too. Everyone here is very happy today. We are all so glad with how the election turned out. What a teachable moment for our children! Let's hope all goes well. The almost 2 million people who came yesterday all were full of hope and good will as well.