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The Magic of Possibility

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
-- President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009.

On my way to the inauguration party, I drove past a landscape glistening with snow. All the world seemed fresh and clean and new.

After dropping my son off at school, I had stopped at the grocery store and seen the array of newspaper headlines: "A day for history: Obama takes power." "This Man, This Day." "The Cusp of Change." "Change Has Come."

It's old hat for the United States to swear in new presidents; we do it every four years. But this time, we didn't just accept change -- we were hungry for it.

I experienced again the elation of Election Night, and was glad I had not followed my original plan of watching the inauguration alone. It was a powerful moment, watching the start of a Presidency for which several of us had worked side by side for months.

Funny, how this extraordinary moment in history passed so quietly, so quickly. While Barack Obama sat and listened to music, I gasped and pointed to the words printed at the bottom of the TV screen: "Barack Obama just became president; the constitution states his term begins at noon even without oath."

It was done.

The man who spoke to the world that afternoon was calm; his words were measured but firm. He spoke of "a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights."

It was a reminder of the memorable warning from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural address, on March 4, 1933: "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

President Obama then turned our focus to the future: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

His words resonated in the room; I turned and saw all eyes fixed on the new President. Even the teenaged boy was leaning forward in his chair, raptly attentive.

And so the "new era" began. Men, women and children worldwide drew courage and optimism from the new President. "Hope" meant something special to each one -- the African Americans who saw a black man unquestionably judged on the content of his character rather than the color of his skin. The young people who poured heart and soul into working for Obama's election and found their efforts could make a difference.

The man who moved to Philadelphia from Togo in western Africa and observed, "If you work hard and believe in yourself, you can make it to the top."

The party went on and on, through the afternoon as some people left and others arrived, until the First Family left the parade reviewing stand and headed to the White House. At last, tired but still joyful, I headed home.

This morning, the first full day of the Obama Administration, I dropped my son off at school. Stopping next at the grocery store, I opened the car door.

The birds were singing.

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