To consecrate by augury

On January 20th, 2017, it rained in Palm Springs.  The sky was leaden gray and it pressed against the ground.  The air was heavy and filled with a palpable sense of dread.  On the other side of the country, a new President had been sworn in.  The storm was gathering.

It rained today in Palm Springs.  The sky, no less gray, felt light and fresh.  The rain was like a longed-for rinse, hope awakened from a long slumber.  On the other side of the country, another new President was sworn in.  I doubt that any other Presidential inauguration in my lifetime has been as filled with the sense of relief the country feels today.  And not since the depths of the Great Depression have we stopped in the middle of so much suffering to celebrate an inauguration.

The Latin root of inauguration means “to consecrate by augury.”  Augury, a sign of what will happen in the future; it connotes a beginning, but not one with an unseen or unknown destination.  Every one of us knows where we’re heading, where we have to head — back to decency, back to competence, back to health, and back to an expanding, inclusive sense of justice.  We are suffering a profound sense of shock as a country, not just from COVID’s reminder that life is fleeting and precious, but from realizing how fragile American democracy is and how we nearly let it slip through our hands over the last four years.

American inaugurations are predominantly secular affairs.  But our ceremonies retain their own majesty and only the most jaded among us do not have a sense that something sacred is happening.  Our most important secular texts are invoked, oaths to protect and defend the ideals they record taken, flags flutter in a wintery breeze, a military band plays tunes we know well and that stir patriotism and pride in each of us.

Joe Biden Inauguration

This year, it was particularly important to retain the traditional setting of Presidential inaugurations at the Capitol’s West Front because of what happened there two weeks ago today.  Today’s ceremony allowed the nation to reclaim a sacred space that had been profaned and defiled, not just by the insurrectionists sent by the now-former President but also by the 147 traitors inside this marble shrine to democracy who violated the oaths they took by voting against certification of the results of the people’s choice to lead them.

Our Capitol was built by enslaved black people and then polluted by the promoter of an ugly white supremacy disguised as “nationalism.”  Today, in a ceremony in which white supremacy was explicitly repudiated multiple times, a dynamic, young African-American poet reminded us we live in "a country and a time 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.”  That, thoughtful reader, is what makes America great.

Today’s events augur well for an end to the last four years of nastiness and a return to America’s true greatness.

We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
(excerpt from The Hill We Climb, Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate of the United States)

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