Sometimes, poets rule the day … and hope and history rhyme …
Yesterday, to me, feels like one of those days.
The minute she took her place at the podium, her bronze countenance shining like the sun, she had me captivated and holding my breath (as perhaps, she did, for you too …).
The coat she wore was bright yellow and chosen especially for the occasion. Word has it that she had refused the gift of a different coat, offered by another powerful woman, who gifted her instead with the ring adorning one of her fingers. The ring bears an image that invokes the voice of yet a third mighty woman, who for all-time sings …
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
Sometimes, poets rule the day.
This particular young poet, word has it, struggled with words as a child. R’s were especially difficult to pronounce, like the sounds in “rrrrrrolling thunderrrrr” and “Lorrrrrrrd have merrrrrrcy”. But the prison which held her tongue could not hold her spirit, which found its freedom by putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard. Her gift was honed and encouraged by a local non-profit whose mission is to assist teenage girls in discovering the power of their voice through creative writing. And so her gift, words and spirit grew, attracting attention and accolades from all around, including that of our First Lady, who believed they were meant for a nation yearning, too … and still … to be truly free.
To prepare, she researched, read and re-read the words of powerful men from our nation’s still-unfolding story, whose names are emblazoned in our collective heart and memory.
But her words – prophetic words — of truth, comfort, grief and hope, pointing our way forward as we pick ourselves up yet again, ever again: these words were and are fully hers, inspired by the same Creator whose breath lives in you and me, calling us to build the Beloved Community, God’s Dream for Us, here and now, step by step, up that hill we climb, together.
I invite you to hear her words – Amanda Gorman’s words – once again.
Pray them, with me. Dance them, with me. Wrestle them, with me. Dream them, with me.
And let our voices together sing thanks for All That Has Been, All That Is, and All That Is Yet To Be.
The Hill We Climb
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of 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.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
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.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Amanda Gorman, 2021 Inaugural Poet