Boy, was it cold in DC on January 20. As Nicola Vassell and I stood freezing amongst the sea of thousands that turned out for the inauguration, I wondered if this was a mistake. Should we just break out now and head back home to watch in warm and comfort on the couch in front of the huge flat screen. I mean, we got there so early, there was plenty of time to bounce and catch him on TV. Why didn’t I dress better? Why didn’t I use my celebrity hook up to get better tix? Why didn’t I bring a blanket? Why am I here freezing my ass off? Why why why?!?! It all ran through my mind during the 4-hour wait for President Obama to appear. The sun was fighting its way through the clouds as we fought to stay warm. We discovered that sitting on the cold grass was the best way to beat the cold, using the other standing bodies as a windshield and we instantly felt better. Nikki kept me laughing, “I’m Jamaican, dammit! I’m not used to this cold!” she said, her eyes the only visible part of her face, peaking out in between her wine colored scarf and brown hat. Laughter can sure be a cure-all sometimes. And on cue, the sun made its glorious, full-on appearance. Aaaaaaaah… Suddenly, things weren’t so bad and I started to think, why was I even asking why to begin with? Why was I complaining about the cold and positioning and blah blah blah? I was there, like so many others, because I wanted that memory, that story to share. I had the great honor of a getting ticket (and a pretty decent one at that), when so many wanted one and couldn’t get one, or had one and still couldn’t get in. How dare I take that for granted? So I told my ego to take a hike. I, like so many, have been on this incredible journey with Barack Obama. This was the day we’ve been waiting for, day that generations have been praying for, the day that many thought would never come in their lifetime. And if given the choice, why would I choose to be anywhere else?
I rose to feel the sun on my face, to look at the Capitol dome (how beautiful the architecture!), and to see faces of the people around me. We were in it together and though strangers, there was a familiarity: we came in peace… we came with love… we came as citizens, proud of our country and hopeful for its future. And just then, a woman tapped me on my shoulder. “Joy? It’s me, Marnie!” Turns out, I’d been standing shoulder to shoulder with my friend from high school that I haven’t seen since high school. Turns out we both cut the line in the same place, at the same time on our way in. Turns out she and her family live 2 blocks from where we were staying. Turns out, I was meant to be in that section, at that time. There was plenty of time to catch up and we did. She and her husband even invited Nikki and me along to a parade viewing party along the parade route. We kept giving each other hugs, so happy to see each other again, so happy to share in the moment.
And there we all stood, friends and strangers, freezing and frozen, laughing and crying, booing and cheering… together. And that’s how we’ll get through all the mess that our country is in right now… together.
* Joy Bryant is an actress and writer who lives in Los Angeles.