Here is how I know that today was a momentous occasion: My younger brother, whose chief means of communication is a terse but amusing line or two on the back of a post card, sent me an e-mail. It read, "One of my favorite things, among so many, about our new president is his sense of humor. After signing papers to become president he said a line I imagine my father or older brothers might say at that moment: 'I was told not to swipe the pen.'"
My president is a funny guy. I spent the morning of his inauguration doing something that I have done countless times before. I was ranching second graders, encouraging them to sit flat on their bottoms so that everyone behind them could see. I shushed the ones who weren't giving attention to the speaker at the front of the room. The difference was that the speaker in the front of the room was the first African-American President of the United States.
Actually, on reflection, it wasn't with Barack Obama that they had trouble sitting still. Aretha Franklin singing, and the strings of Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma were the cause of a good deal of fidgeting. But when Barack took the podium, the chatter stopped. They were transfixed. A combination of the awareness of history in front of them and the charisma of our forty-fourth president kept a room full of kids as quiet as any juggler or Magic School Bus DVD.
Then it was over, and we went back to our day. My wife drove over to my school to share just a moment in the afterglow, caught me with a bunch of kindergartners who were as pleased and happy to see her as I was. One of them told her, "My mommy says that when I get home, we'll have a new president."
Because that's the way it works, after all. The really amazing thing, as President Obama mentioned in his address, is that for the forty-fourth time we are peacefully passing power to the next administration. Wars at home and abroad, economic boom and bust, social and civil unrest, and we still manage to keep it civilized. Hooray. When I got home, I had a new president.