The inauguration of the President of the United States of America is always an event that the world watches with interest. But with the drama of the last few weeks still fresh in our minds, not to mention everything else that has happened over the last twelve months, this particular inauguration was one like no other, in every possible way.
It is fair to say that this year’s event felt especially poignant – and one particular moment that really captured this for me was the brief silence held at Arlington National Cemetery earlier in the day, a place where thousands of America’s heroes have been laid to rest. A moment that was made all the more significant given that Biden’s son, Beau Biden, who served a year-long tour of Iraq in 2008 as a captain in the Delaware National Guard, was laid to rest there after his death from brain cancer in 2015. He was aged just 46.
Perhaps the emotion of the moment was best summed up in the words of Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old Harvard graduate who was chosen as the youngest inaugural poet in US history, as she read her poem The Hill We Climb:
“When day comes we ask ourselves,
Where can we find light
In this never-ending shade”
And so I find myself fondly reminiscing of my time in Washington back in July 1996. It’s funny how quickly twenty-five years have passed! Back then I was just shy of my 26th birthday, a British tourist on the other side of the pond. That, and a writer in the making, in search of inspiration in the land of the free. And I found inspiration too, from seeing the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in the National Archives, to sheltering from the rain in the J.Edgar Hoover Building, to name but a few of the sights I managed to take in. The city was, in my eyes, a beautiful place (although the same could not be said of the camping!).
“Move over Gillian Anderson” reads the note in my journal beneath a picture of a somewhat younger me
If there is one thing that stands out when it comes to America, it is the sheer scale of everything; here’s the Abraham Lincoln memorial, with me for scale. Bear in mind, I’m pretty tall myself!
But what really came back to me today was my own quiet journey to the Arlington National Cemetery. A powerful, peaceful and serene place in which so many tremendous sacrifices are remembered and honoured.
Arlington is, of course, also the final resting place of John F. Kennedy, whose simple grave site, with its eternal flame, cannot fail to make a lasting impression.
I remember well the feelings of sadness and melancholy that I noted in my journal as I look back over those memories – fond memories of a time spent in a truly wonderful country. A country I was meant to be returning to last year as a celebration of my fiftieth birthday.
I guess this particular trip was just not meant to be, a sentiment that so many will share. But despite it all, when I look back and see the America that I remember, it gives me a renewed sense of hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
‘Til next time,