Moved nearly to tears….

Here’s something that my daughter sent me:

The speech didn’t move me as much as this narrative did. This writer points out that this was the very first time that the word Hindu was used in an inaugural speech. And then makes me emote with other points. The text I felt worth sharing is below. The longer article is here: http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/005599.html

A word.

One word.

One word which changed everything for me, and maybe, you.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.”

Don’t ask me why I nearly choked on a far more impressive H-bomb, because I don’t quite know how to explain what I felt at that moment. I will try to define it and will almost certainly fail, but I must try because even now, just remembering and writing about it causes tears to cover my eyes.

After spending close to three decades either being mistaken for a Hindu by those who were unaware of the existence of Christianity in India or gently reminding my peers that to conflate “Desi” or “Indian” with “Hindu” was wrong, I was shaking because I felt recognized and included— and all because of the thoughtful, enlightened inclusion of a faith of which I am not a member, in one of the most important Inaugural addresses in our entire history.

Upon reflection, I grasp why I felt that surge of emotion. I may not be Hindu, but nearly everyone whom I meet assumes that I am, and perception is a powerful thing. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were seen as potential saboteurs; other Asians took to wearing buttons which declared “Chinese” or “Not from Nippon”. My point is not to endorse craven yet understandable tactics but to point to how powerful “perception” is.

You are what you look like. And to the vast majority of the world, I look Hindu. I’m not ashamed of that at all. Today, I felt celebrated for it. I felt included, even though my actual faith was mentioned first, in a group which was magnanimous and heedful enough to include “non-believers”.

This was extraordinary.

I had to tell all of you, so you could witness it too, live, and not on YouTube or a later airing of some news program. I grabbed my phone and prayed that it would work as Itweeted an alert to any and all of you who either know the fail whale or follow Facebook (which Twitter can auto-update). Several of you got the message and when I finally reached my warm home this afternoon and checked my GMail, I was gratified by our shared joy over phrasing.

I don’t think it was a spoiler; I’d like to think it was an opportunity for a mutineer to whisper in your ear a precious secret. Though I knew it was coming, it didn’t dull the impact of hearing a resonant voice announce that list. Knowing of such inclusion in advance didn’t dampen my enthusiasm, nor did it prevent the dampening of my face. Even if he hadn’t hit it out of the park with his right religiousness, these remarks would have done me in:

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.

And at that moment, though I probably wasn’t meant to, I thought of my parents, who came here separately for a common goal: a better life. My Mother packed the only three silk saris she owned and left India. She wore those saris in the snow, in Oklahoma, palloo drawn tightly around her shoulders because she didn’t yet own a winter coat. Forty years ago, my Father quietly fretted over the “eight dollars” he had in his hand and how and when he’d be able to replace them. With no relatives here before them, surely they knew they were destined to struggle initially. But they fearlessly traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For me and for my sister, they toiled, sometimes working two jobs to pay tuition for the best schools they could afford. They did settle in the West, leaving the harsh winters of the Great Plains for Southern California, where I was born. Later, when they proudly purchased their first home, they realized with dismay that the garden they had dreamed of planting would not, could not be, because of the clay in our backyard. So they plowed that hard, messy earth, brought in topsoil, composted before it was virtuous and trendy and grew curry leaves, bittermelon, okra, tomatoes, long flat beans, taro and vegetables I have never seen again, in order to feed us wholesome food without driving hours away to the nearest farmer’s market to procure it.

Four decades of my family’s history refined, magnified, sanctified. Contained within a few lines, delivered via a few minutes of oratory, it felt like a punch to the gut, and that was before I realized that he wasn’t talking about my parents. I blinked and felt mascara smudge as I realized I didn’t care whom he was talking about, because it felt like he was speaking to me. Me me, the me I’m not sure everyone sees. I had attempted to remain studiously neutral during the election, ostensibly for the sake of this website, but mostly because I didn’t want to be disappointed by one candidate who seemed too good to be true even as another candidate disappointed me with his inability to make sound decisions. “I’m Switzerland,” I often mumbled to myself, recalling the phrase my younger sister and I utilized when we were small.

But when you’re standing there, in brilliantly bright January light, with a clear sight-line of a man who has seen you, really seen you, who has acknowledged not just you, but your entire history, too, it is impossible to be Swiss or neutral. All I could be was American. And humbled. And grateful, to finally be included.

***************

As KM and I watched the inauguration, and we looked at the very young-looking face of the 44th President of the USA, we were wondering, “How lined will his face look after 8 years?” (We are optimistic that he will be elected for another term.)…would be interesting to see what the years etch on his visage.

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