Electricity is a commonplace yet miraculous phenomenon. It regularly surges through the air at lightning speed, invisibly linking people, things, and events. Some people use it for light, some for power, and some merely for connection.
My favorite type of electricity, however, is not the kind you can see, but rather the kind you can feel. The kind of electricity that allows you to taste anticipation on your tongue as clearly as you would a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day, the kind where you can hear an invisible buzz radiating off buildings and trees and sidewalks. The kind that smells like the bodies of thousands of strangers as they pack themselves into the National Mall to claim their piece of history as the new leader of the free world places his hand on a Bible and swears in as the 45th President of the United States.
Today was a day for marveling at the enormous spectrum of the human spirit. I saw people in their ugliest and most beautiful forms as they exhibited their prejudiced hate and heartfelt kindness for one another, both of which were occasionally directed at me. I saw people crying and smiling and standing and running; I heard people chanting and whispering and planning and waiting. I smelled the fear and the joy. I tasted the blood, sweat, and tears of all those who came before me to make a day like this possible.
As I watched everything unfold around me, I very much felt like an adolescent owl: wide-eyed and constantly asking myself, “Who?” Who are these thousands of protesters flocking near the well-known monuments, chanting rage-filled phrases about tolerance? Who are the tourists firing back their patriotic “USA”s with just as much rigor? Who am I to remain undecided about a man who has inspired more political rhetoric than anyone else in a really long time, when I so obviously need to pick a side to be taken seriously?
Excitement, unfortunately, is addicting, especially when one is surrounded by history revealing itself by the minute. The desire for personal safety is replaced by the unyielding yearning for an “I was there” story to tell in future years, when we all will look back and revel in the incredible events we claim to have been a part of.
The indubitable fact of the matter is that no matter whose side you were on, we were all there for the same reason: to be present for the transfer of power from President Barack Obama to Donald J. Trump. In the vicious battles and close-minded misunderstandings, we all had something in common.
But controversy has plagued our nation since its initial forming almost 250 years ago. We have overcome international and domestic obstacles, from narrowly escaping imperial rule to defending democracy across the world. We have savagely cut each other down to shreds, bickered about how to put ourselves back together, and somehow managed to emerge relatively intact with an unyielding sense of pride. America, the land of the free and home of the brave! Where change and civil disruption is encouraged and enjoyed just as much as a friendly game of football on a Sunday afternoon; where conflict, rebellion, and determination could all easily be our middle name. The United States in all its obnoxious glory is a wonder to behold, but lately we have become a sensory overload of negativity.
It is almost midnight, and the events that occurred today will soon be filed more deeply into my memory. As I think about what I want to record, I am (fittingly) reminded of words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. …”
And what ‘they’ did was open me up and extract a jumble of emotions I never knew I had. I felt resolve as I sang the national anthem and said the “amen”s as I realized how much I loved this country and my own heritage; belonging, as I walked among the thousands of people, supporters and protesters alike; gratefulness, as a police officer gave me his hand warmers when he saw me shivering in the wind; and compassion, as I listened to a red-faced boy who relived his attack from the violence of K Street.
But more than anything else, I felt the electricity racing through this city and tearing through the hearts of dreamers like me, sure to go down in history as one of the many days Washington D.C. came alive.