Your Own Inauguration

On this day we celebrate the peaceful and ritualistic transfer, (or in this case, maintenance) of great power. President Barack Obama, just hours ago, gave his second Inaugural Address, ushering in his second four year term as the nation’s Chief Executive.

Despite the fact that the reins of power remained with the same person today, the concept of this quadrennial ritual is a potent and dare I say beloved one in the American psyche. Perhaps the only bi-partisan day remaining in our highly polarized political society, Inauguration Day, even the second one for the same president, remains a fixed point upon which we as a people attach the ideas of starting new, resetting some of the clocks, and healing from a contention year of constant electioneering.

The Inaugural Address, and all of the pomp that surrounds it is not required by law. All that is required of an incoming president is the taking of the presidential oath of office, as laid out in Clause Eight of Article Two, Section Five of the United States Constitution. Everything else: the bands, the speeches, the convocations, the parade, the hundreds of thousands of people, Beyonce, are gravy. And with the exception of Beyonce, it’s gravy that has been a part of every Inauguration since the very first in 1789.

So why all the gravy? That peaceful transition of power I spoke of, unique in history at the dawn of our nation and still rather unusual to many parts of the world today, could and would transpire without all the trappings. Yet we surround that simple, two minute oath with a specific ceremony that lasts about an hour most years, and with a whole day of prayers, meals, speeches, parades and balls. I ask again, why?

Far be it from me to assert with certainty all of the reasons people do what they do at such time. However I do feel justified in theorizing. One reason of course is to celebrate, perhaps welcome to an extent, a new president. It may serve somewhat as a “welcome back” or a “thank you” to a re-elected president. All of the fanfare no doubt also serves as a sort of secular Eucharist at the altar of democratic government and the transfer of power by deliberate, scheduled, non-violent means.

Yet I don’t think it’s a stretch to say a lot of it springs from the same spirit with which we annually celebrate the New Year. True, the changing of presidents has more real-world, tangible consequences than does the quasi-arbitrary shift in one type of calendar that we in the West go nuts over every January 1. Yet don’t both days, Inauguration Day and New Year’s Day have something in common? Embracing what is new…getting beyond the unpleasantness of the recent past…reaffirming commitments to certain universals. The two days aren’t identical, but they’re cousins.

As people we enjoy symbols of starting over. Beginning again. Having another go. Clean slates. Refer to it in a million different ways and the message is the same; there’s hope that from here on out we can do better.

Need we wait for a New Year’s Day or an Inauguration Day to enter this mindset? Of course not. It can merely be your birthday. It can be Tuesday. It doesn’t much  matter, so long as you’re dedicated to the idea that some things end, but other things begin. Some aspects of your life may be leaving office, but unlike an outgoing president, some aspects of you are just starting to take over. You can, in short, inaugurate a new presidency within your own life whenever you like. You can make an oath to yourself to faithfully execute your own goals in your own image to the best of your ability. I struggle with doing that myself sometimes, but I do try, and eventually I imagine I will do what needs to be done.

What about you? What will you inaugurate today?

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