Reflections on Obama’s Inauguration and a Letter to President Ford

Early in the morning of January 20th, I lay awake at night wondering about our president elect. It was 1am my time, so it was 4am in Washington. Was Barack Obama asleep, or was he awake, thinking about his “new job?” I know that the night before a new job, I am usually so excited or nervous that I can’t sleep. Would a new president feel the same way?

As I thought about this new president, ready to assume his new job, I recalled another time that I had felt a certain empathy for the leader of the new world. Gerald Ford had been my favorite president as a young child. Perhaps it was because Nixon had been such an unfavored character, or perhaps it was because President Ford had a daughter, Susan who seemed so smart and lovely, and I really admired her. The funny thing is that at age three, I was a huge fan of President Ford.

When President Ford lost the election, I was worried about him, and his family. My Dad had been let go from his job recently, and at three, I vaguely understood what it meant to be faced with unemployment. I wouldn’t have known the word recession, but I imagine I knew there were hard times in general.

So, I asked my Mom to help me write a letter to President Ford. I told him I was really sorry that he’d lost his job, and that my Dad had lost his job recently, too. I told him that if he needed a place to live for awhile, his family could come and stay with us. We sealed it, put a stamp on it, and sent it off to the Fords.

A few weeks later I got a reply. It was likely a canned letter, but in it, President Ford told me thank you, and that I was lucky to be young and live in such an exciting and promising age, and that I was fortunate to live in the finest country in the world. He also sent some pictures of his time in the White House.

I cherished that letter, in a young and patriotic way. We had it framed, and hung in my room as I grew up. I was proud of our country and felt a certain amount of pride and awe for the office of the President. Somewhere in one of the Bush eras, I think I lost that sense of patriotism.

As I’ve seen the inauguration and excitement around President Obama, I feel that old sense of patriotism coming back. There were millions of people who stopped what they were doing yesterday to watch a man be sworn in to the office of President. And in his speech, President Obama reminded us of the greatness we have known, the promise we hold for the future, and the encouragement to find our strength to rise and lead again as a united nation.

At the inauguration, there was a sense of awe, a respect for the Office, and the appropriate amount of American celebration around the ceremony. People who had likely felt disengaged, as I had, during previous administrations were out with American flags, feeling that someone who represented them was taking the lead. It has been heartening to see the media coverage of these days, of a new First Family and their excitement about the journey they are beginning together. And there is that youthful excitement shining through again, full of patriotism and promise, filling hearts with hope. This is what I will remember from these first days of the Obama administration.