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Blog by by Alan Seale, January 25, 2021, Society, Culture, and Government

Everywhere I turn, people are still talking about it. Their faces light up, they clasp their hands to their hearts, they start to describe it and then can’t find words. And so it was—the Inauguration Ceremony of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris. Change-maker and political analyst Van Jones called it medicine for the soul. Indeed. 

How many times in a 24-hour period did tears come to my eyes? How many times did my heart break open even more? Starting with the COVID-19 memorial ceremony at the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument the evening before and lasting through the virtual celebration concert on television to close Inauguration Day, I could touch and feel the heart and soul of my country again. It was 24 hours of hope, and a promise that somehow, we’re going to find our way. 

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris with their spouses at the COVID-19 Ceremony of Remembrance January 19, 2021
President and Vice-President Elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris with their spouses in the Ceremony of Remembrance for the 400,000+ people who have died of COVID-19 in the United States (Photo: Evan Vucci)

Part of what made the whole experience “medicine for the soul” was the intention behind the design of the events. There was such attention to detail—a sense of ritual filled with symbolism and meaning. In the memorial service, there were 400 lights around the edge of the reflecting pool, each representing 1,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in the United States. The Capitol Mall was populated with 200,000 flags to represent an audience of 200,000 people who could not be physically present for the inauguration because of the pandemic. The beautiful diversity in the speakers and performers in the inauguration ceremony and events surrounding it representing our multi-cultural land. The focus on hope and promise while at the same time acknowledging the enormous challenges of our times. Even the choices for clothing designers and specific colors for President Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and Vice-President Harris had particular meaning and significance. What we witnessed was ceremony as an art form. 

And then there was Amanda Gorman, at 22 years old, the youngest inaugural poet in our country’s history. Her words were powerful, moving, and inspiring. Yet her presence shone even more brightly than her words. Her extraordinary poem, The Hill We Climbspoken through her radiant presence, mystically captured our current moment in history—a moment that is tumultuous, for sure, yet, if we will dare to go there, also filled with enormous promise. Here are the opening and closing lines of her poem.  

Amanda Gorman speaking at the Inauguration Ceremony for President Joe Biden
Amanda Gorman speaking at the Inauguration Ceremony for President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris

from The Hill We Climb 
by Amanda Gorman

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
. . .

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

As Americans, Amanda Gorman’s poem takes us back to who our forefathers boldly claimed that we would become as a country. To be clear, we are still trying to live up to those bold claims. There have been moments of glory, yet parts of the journey have been desperate and messy and terrifying. In fact, even as recently as January 6th right in our nation’s Capitol. In the last few years, it has felt as if our country was broken—maybe even, at times, broken beyond repair. Ms. Gorman’s poem acknowledges all of it—the glory and the pain and the hope and the promise. She calls us a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished. 

Simply unfinished. We aren’t done yet. Nowhere near. In fact, already in the days since the inauguration, some legislators on both sides of the aisle are retreating to their separate corners. Both sides accuse the other of abandoning the call for unity. The old battle lines drawn once more. We still have a long way to go.  

Not Seeking Consensus, but Molding Consensus

Dr. Martin Luther King taught that genuine leadership is not about seeking consensus—it’s about molding consensus. Creating consensus. That means commitment and persistence. It means talking and talking and talking with one another. No, actually, what it really means is listening and listening and listening to one another. Listening underneath the words and the feelings for the healing that is trying to emerge. Listening for what wants to happen for the good of all, not just for some. 

It’s a deep kind of listening. It’s learning to recognize not only where you are in your thought and feelings, but also where others are. And to be able to read the temperature of the mass consciousness. What is the mass consciousness ready to accept now, and what still needs a little more time? If your vision truly supports a greater good, and if you keep listening and sensing into the energy, you will recognize when your vision’s time has come. There may be moments when you think the time has come, yet when the moment actually arrives, you will know it in every cell of your being. Wisdom is knowing when to step back and pause and when to step forward and push ahead. 

A Journey of Becoming

We’re on a journey of becoming—as individuals, as families, as companies, as countries, and as a global civilization. As we learn and grow and evolve together, as individuals and as a collective, who we can be and what we can do together also evolves. More and more becomes possible.

Another part of wisdom is the ability to tap into the intelligence of the potential that is waiting to emerge, and to let that intelligence guide us. Everything you need is already present. Everything. Part of the journey of becoming is learning to tap into that intelligence, expand our knowledge about what is happening, hone our wisdom, and respond with the action that we are called to next.  

Wisdom includes being able to sense where we are on the journey and where others are. Rarely will everyone be at the same place at the same time. The rhythms and flows are different depending on where you are on the path. That’s just how the journey of becoming works. 

Again, from The Hill We Climb:

And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us

A journey of becoming, together. Becoming who we are called to be, together. This journey calls us to lift our gaze beyond differences so that we may sense the possibilities that are waiting to be created—created by and for all of us. We might even discover that, in fact, some of the strengths that we need actually lie in the ways that we are different. 

We need each other. We need each other’s gifts and skills and perspectives and dreams. Again, words of Martin Luther King: We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now. The journey of becoming for any one of us can only happen to its fullest when it is happening for all of us. 

The Journey of Becoming Needs Medicine for the Soul

In order to fully engage in the journey of becoming, we need medicine for the soul. We need frequent moments of inspiration and meaning. We need ritual and symbolism. We need frequent moments that touch our hearts and souls. We especially need moments that touch the collective soul. Which is why we need music and art and poetry and theater and dance and uplifting oratory as expressions of the human spirit.

Creating that medicine for the soul for each other brings us back to the two fundamental questions I’ve written about the last two weeks—questions that will shape our journey of becoming and how we provide that soul medicine for each other today and tomorrow.  

  1. Who do I choose to be? How do I choose to show up right now and what role do I choose to play?
  2. Who do we choose to be together? How do we choose to be in relationship with one another?

Listen. Sense. Feel. Where are you on your journey of becoming? How about your family? Your company? Your country? What is the medicine for the soul that is needed right now? 

Each of us are the stewards of our own lives. And we are also the stewards of our communities and our world. It’s up to all of us to provide the needed medicine for each other. It’s up to us to create a world where we are all a part of the journey of becoming. 

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it