Wednesday, January 20, 2021 – the Day of Inauguration for the 46th President and 49th Vice-President of the United States. While it was a typical day for many in the United States because ultimately, lives had to be led, it was remarkably atypical for many reasons. At the top of the heap of newsmakers stood the nation’s first National Youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman, as she captured the attention, breath, and spirit of millions with her recitation of her poem “The Hill We Climb”. Most who listened, hung on to every one of the 710 words which bobbed and weaved through the maze of American history, life, and condition.
The poetry was as impressive as the poise and strength of the poet. The sentiments expressed, while pure in simplicity, are revealingly daring in honesty. When asked about her immediate reaction to the events of January 6th (purportedly a source of inspiration), without hesitation, Ms. Gorman indicated that she was not in the least bit surprised. The notion that a citizens’ Bill of Rights compromises the stability of the very system that champions such rights is both self-contradictory as well as real. When asked whether images of the insurrection on the US Capitol served as inspiration for the poem, Ms. Gorman replied “I am a poet. I am inspired by words.” We are often reminded that talk is cheap. And that actions speak louder than words. But words matter. Words internalized may lead to action without words, but the unspoken word came first. That was self-evident yesterday.
Filled with reminders of a promise of inclusion, fairness, and justice for all notwithstanding, the metaphoric “Hill” is one that many immigrants strive to scale every single day as they seek the promise of a better future in a land that touts boundless opportunities. True inner strength seems as unnatural as it is prevalent. To be able to dig oneself out of one’s roots and travel long distances, often dotted in adversity and hardship, just so one could then replant themselves in a more fertile land requires great inner strength juxtaposed with untested optimism. Yesterday, it was a firm testament to the travails of immigrants when even weathered citizens of the promised land became so deeply affected by the expression of a soulful young poet who gave them permission to embrace the truths while denying the falsehoods. An Emancipation Proclamation and foretelling Constitution bear witness to the high standards for the proverbial perfect union. Our steps need not be in whole. One step forward and a half step backward keeps us moving forward, but aspirational progress may only be perceived by future generations. In the interim the only way forward, long term, is to move with positive net displacement. It is a method of movement all too familiar for millions of immigrants all over the globe. Fear of the unknown rarely intimidates or discourages us. At the end of the day, progress of measure comes not by the grandeur of an economy but by the largeness of collective thought followed by the diligence of committed action.
Bejeweled with moving expression and telling emotion, “The Hill We Climb” provides a reset for anyone looking for the do-over button. “So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.”, writes Ms. Gorman. A perfectly sustainable recipe for life which, when aggregated, begins with community, and extends to the universe. The circle of life appears less circular and more skewed normal.