01/23/2009 03:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011


By Jessica Hobby Catto

Cold is traditional for inaugurals, but this one was different. It also was unusually wet, but not with rain or snow. More people than ever before jammed the mall and the streets, and those faces were, more often than not, wet with tears, quietly sliding down their chilly cheeks. These were tears of relief, pride, and yes, hope.

The tears started at the Lincoln Memorial ceremony. Pete Seeger sang to us fifty years ago, "This land is your land, this land is my land." To hear it again and know it now has real resonance filled my eyes to the brim. "America the Beautiful," sung by the beautiful Beyonce caused an overflow.

We are proud because we have elected a man of intellectual rigor and vigor, and a man who has put aside pettiness for civil and gracious behavior. America is ready to lead again with a serious, even-handed adult at the head of government.

We are proud America has lifted us up past a history of vicious slavery and prejudice against people of African origin. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief, as if "The United States of America" had been held hostage for at least the last eight years by the evil fairy godmother. The prince had finally come, taken the oath and banished her from the kingdom. Our hearts and souls were out of prison and flying free.

Imagine a President having to say, "science is back." Science, like surgery, should not be interrupted or halted.

Barak Obama called us to arms to confront the deep financial artillery lined up against us. The deep hole into which we have been dug needs backfilling and fast. He told us that the climb up would be tough. Our national piggy bank has been broken into and the coin of the realm went everywhere but back in our pockets. Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again. So we shed tears for that reality. After the soft sobs though, we pick ourselves up, and as the song says, "start all over again."

He said: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." We are ready.

We are ready to take on the energy challenge and nurture our earth again. We are really ready for the leadership he is promising.

Our tears were our first response to the oath of office and then to the strong, spare address. Then followed the murmured assents and soto voce amens from the millions of listeners. Whether you were there or watching on TV, the tears came. We are down now and we know it. Our tears were for what is lost, but they were also for what we can still accomplish. That voice of leadership told us we could and would rebuild.

Habeas corpus is key to our essential freedom; it is front and center in our Constitution. Yes, it can and has been waived in the past. Closing Guantanamo by executive order, however, is symbolic as well as concrete action restoring one of our most fundamental freedom. Even if the process is not easy, our values and laws are being upheld again. Relief that our Constitution will be honored again as a living and binding document, is one of the most heartening signals a new leader could send to us as well as the world.

The business about giving up childish things may be the hardest one; that may take a little more focus. I read that Rush Limbaugh hopes our brand new President will fail. There is good news and bad news in that kind of juvenile behavior. The good news is that in this country of verbal freedom, protected by the first amendment, you can speak nonsense as well as wisdom. You can fulminate like the Queen of Hearts all you want and no one will shut you up.

The bad news is that verbal bullies have an audience at all. When he hopes our President fails, he means he hopes our country will fail. Is that treason? No, rancor and stupidity are not treasonous, but they should not be listened to. Turn off spite. Put away childish things. Touch that dial.

Our tears on January 20th told us that our country has been in a coma. We mourn our common losses, from September 11th through our monetary and environmental demise. Those same tears also told us that we are ready to rebuild and that joining hands works better than name calling.