The man on the elliptical machine beside me at Anytime Fitness stared forward into his Cardio Theater personal television screen, watching hockey. I considered saying something. But I didn’t.
Such an intrusion would be “un-American,” I reasoned, and I turned my righteous glare to my own screen to watch the presidential inauguration ceremony. I didn’t expect the broadcast would be more entertaining than my neighbor’s program. It’s just that watching the proceedings felt like performing a civic duty. (Eventually, the man tuned in, briefly).
Not long into the event coverage, I sensed that I could have performed that civic duty better.
“I should be there,” I thought, as the cameras panned over a crowd of people so massive that few, I imagined, could even see what was going on—but they could feel it.
“I should have donated more than five bucks,” I thought, remembering how I had given a minimum amount only when my facebook bud David Plouffe, President Obama’s campaign manager, said he would enter me into a contest to win tickets to the inauguration if I did.
Those feelings were new and unexpected and I wondered if, at 25 years old, government affairs were finally inspiring something other than apathy inside me. I hoped so. As a journalist, it has always been embarrassing to feel so unmoved by politics, and thus be ill-informed about them.
That is not to say I have never felt a sense of patriotism. In high school, I practically shouted the Pledge of Allegiance every morning to make up for everyone else who had quit saying it. In fifth grade, there was a time I raced each day for a songbook on the shelf to read the words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and hear the music crescendo in my imagination. I even investigated joining the armed forces before college.
Thinking back on that now, I see why the inaugural proceedings nearly caused me to weep, as the exercise machine simulated another hill for me to climb. Our new president embodies the idea of America, to which I have always pledged my allegiance. In his speech, President Obama reminded me of a message I wish would hold in my mind more often.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “If you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”
Recently, on an online news Web site, I took a quiz that claimed to tell me whether I could be an entrepreneur. I remember the quiz told me successful entrepreneurs are generally optimistic to the point of losing touch with reality. President Obama, I believe, could be that way. So to the world I say, “America has put up a sign, ‘Under New Management.'” Let’s just hope a sign like that attracts better business than it did for our Mr. Movies store.