Thursday, January 22, 2009

Flubbing the Oath

Note to self: if ever asked to administer the oath of office to the incoming President of the United States, practice. And use notes.

It struck me as bad enough that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court flubbed the oath. After all, the world was watching, America at its finest was on display, and this was a high moment for the unlikely candidate who had risen from obscurity and, shall we say, "non-traditional beginnings" to the threshold of the highest office in the land. It was a high moment, also, for all those who may or may not have voted for him but who had come to see in him the embodiment of a dream and the threshold of a new and better tomorrow. It was a ceremonial but also a symbolic moment -- a seminal moment -- and the Chief Justice for some reason just thought he would "wing it."

But then he added insult to injury by stumbling precisely over the word "faithfully." I suppose it shouldn't surprise me. People have been stumbling over the notion of faithfulness for a long time -- marital, political, as well as religious. The Chief Justice was, I suppose, only manifesting our cultural ambivalence toward the idea. We have become far more attuned to expedience and indulgence and convenience and self-interest. "Faithfulness" can be, after all, so confining. It commits and connects an individual to wider interests, to others' concerns, to broader needs than just those the individual may be personally experiencing. And it places certain demands on a person -- that she or he be, as the dictionary suggests, "true to one's word, promises, vows," and "reliable." Ah! Virtues so...quaint.

Not that they have any relevance to the Presidency. I can see why the Chief Justice viewed the word to be so airy and flimsy that he could bat it around the oath like a beach ball on a windy day.


I was amused that by nightfall of the second day in office, the Chief Justice reappeared in the White House where a "do-over" of the oath was successfully accomplished. Someone in the legal department apparently felt like they should eliminate any question of legitimacy. Fine. I'm happy they got it right. More than anything, however, I am simply delighted to hear that someone still feels that oaths -- promises, vows, commitments -- and, presumably faithfulness to them, are relevant at all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When the Roar is Behind You

I have felt a number of emotions about George W. Bush over the years, but tenderness has not been among them -- until yesterday. CNN, covering the after-activities of the inauguration of Barack Obama, signaled in the ticker at the bottom of the screen that now "former" President Bush had landed in Texas. For a guy like me who is challenged by endings -- any kind of ending, even storing away the tree after Christmas -- I wondered what he must be feeling. Quiet, I imagine. Gone, at least for the moment, are the sounds of crowds -- both the cheering ones and the jeering ones; gone even must be the clattering shutters of cameras punctuating his every step. Still, at least for the moment, is the constant and frenetic swirl of aids and couriers and staff. And vacuous must be the space that almost unspeakable responsibility occupied until just hours before.

And my guess is that he is smiling -- at least for the moment. By almost trivial comparison, I remember the lightening relief I felt during my first sabbatical with the knowledge that the phone, so to speak, would not ring. For virtually the first time in my adult life, I was completely off-duty. And the former President is, in ways only a very select fraternity can understand, off-duty.

But I wonder if the silence might, indeed, be -- today, or perhaps tomorrow -- deafening as well; I wonder if the stillness might feel paralyzing? Absence, after all, where momentous presence has been can be a melancholy relief.

My guess is that this is a day that the former President and First Lady have looked forward to. All the attention given in recent days to the accellerated aging effect the White House exerts -- all those photographic comparisons of Presidential appearances coming into office with those leaving office lead me to believe that the breathtaking rigors of that office make the end of term a date to circle on the private calendar with the notation, "Free at last!"

But I also suspect that clearing brush at the Crawford farm will provide only temporary satisfaction. When you are accustomed to the weight of the free world resting on your shoulders, the terrible threat of some overgrown bushes has got to feel eerily light. The roar of the crowd, the flash of the camera, and thee center of attention can be as addictive as they almost certainly are exhausting.

And I feel for him. How easy, I wonder, is it to truly leave it all behind?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Day to Turn Some Pages

If the accumulation on our deck rail is any indication, we received something like 2-3" of snow during the night. The trees are wearing it proudly, especially the evergreens for whom the flakes are like stunning accessories from Tiffany's, but also the barren-branched trees who hoard the drifts in their joints like pantries. Sitting snuggly inside by the fire as the gray of morning brightens, I am grateful for the scraping sound outside of the young men who have arrived early to clear the sidewalks, driveways and road. The forecast anticipates a cold day with a high barely into the 20's and windchills in the low single digits. Tonight will be even colder.

But never mind. I haven't a thing I need to do today that requires turning the ignition. There is a sermon to finish and holiday decorations to store. There is miscellaneous housework to accomplish and a dinner to prepare together. Barrington will need some entertaining -- especially with walks cut short -- and there are some phone calls to make.

And there are the books. I'm not sure why it is, but my "to read" pile and list seem to loom each year this time of year like a daunting Mt. Everest, alluringly appealing but impossible to climb. It could be that publishers are forceful during the holidays about seducing my attention, or it could be the fruit of holiday conversations. It could have to do with winter's more interior appeal, when books have been perennial hibernation companions.

Whatever, I am offering a silent prayer of thanks for the unscheduled hours ahead of me and the wintery air around me, the warm fire in front of me and the exhilarating opportunity to take a few indulgent steps up that literary mountain.