Searching for Lulu at the InaugurationJanuary 22, 2009
Searching for Lulu
After three hours of standing on the frigid ground, the circulation in the feet slows, the sludge of 50 weight oil sumps in ankles, and stasis creeps up into knees. (The cold still grips the calves, even days later.) Stamping feet to get blood moving, we listened silently to the speeches and, as the words dissolved into the air, we were led, and sometimes pushed, towards an indiscernible exit, ebbing as a tide caught between shore and some unseen reef.
We headed back towards the outdoor johns and where we had entered the assembly ground earlier that morning. We knew to move towards Georgetown, to eventual escape but through an uncertain passage. I know now a little of how a salmon feels, being routed through a fish ladder, except you can’t jump over the other fish here; it’s push and a pull, no leaping. You go with it.
Lulu’s grandmother did.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder during the ceremony embedded within people of all makes and models for a few hours makes for an interesting community immersion. Characters define themselves and unintentionally emerge: The guy with the round glasses behind, booing each representative of the old regime appearing on the “Jumbotron”; the short gal with the white fuzzy hat and yellow coat that jumped up and down to see over the sea of shoulders; the proud many living their grandparents’ dreams; the colorful couple to the right that nuzzled and tried to stay warm, one clearly very interested in the other—the rest of the world was invisible.
For a few hours, a mass of humanity unimagined in any place—sporting events, shopping venues, even the Beijing subway—were connected. No, not simply connected, sewn together and made a knit of every possible variation of God’s design. A giant crazy quilt of color, size, background, motivation and satisfaction.
The cold limited conversation to a degree although we huddled for warmth: a pack of penguins in parkas. The stentorian audio mortared the gaps between the attendees, sometimes emitting curious sounds: whispered hellos and comments from the dais, the whooshing of the moment through microphones as the wind rose through the tunnels where high-and-mighties (and wouldn’t we give a right arm to be them) were teased out from their warm cars and limousines to the cold and into the New. Other times, casual human conversations are captured: “It is nice to see you again,” said the Senator cum-Secretary to the aging, retired President. We listened closely.
In our immediate crowd, a young man from Mumbai (maybe Chennai? I didn’t ask) waved his flag behind me, his eyes wondrous but uncertain what to make of all this. During the peak of the excitement (and lo, the shrieking was mostly the province of the young women), the enthusiasm and excitement electrified the crowd.
And so it came to pass that the long wistfully-wanted achievement was made and our part was played (to its fullest). It became time to detach and return to some warmth and our daily deeds and wonder about during our reflective moments that which we had just witnessed. [And the witnesses all nodded to each other and said without words: “Yeah, I understand.”]
Here’s a little “shaky cam” of the zenith:
We left in near silence, absent celebratory whooping or hollering, imbued with the sense of leaving a somber Church service. Or were we just all friggin’ cold?!
Out to the exits and through strangling gates, our legs regaining flexibility and warming slightly, our thoughts still simmering. So we, the bit players, the chorus, the gallery, moved out.
We strode west and Zacchaeus’s climbed the short denuded cherry trees to get a look over the heads of the parkas and scarves. A few of those who took a precarious refuge were content to load the branches: two lovers traded a sandwich on their flora floes and laughed between them as the crowd weaved by; they were lost together in their shared elevated space. Others in the cherries purposefully scanned and gave directions, gravely, and accidentally, conscripted by their position to give commands to the crowd. One, wearing a brown jacket and bright orange knit hat and ski mittens—the kind favored by snowboarders—rose on a limb and looked down and to the left, gesturing to those around. He was spied immediately, like a traffic cop in the middle of a hurricane.
“Tree-MAN!” someone entreated. “Where should we go?”
Tree-Man, resolutely, and bravely waved the colors, or, rather, his gloves towards the South. “It’s there, I mean, head THAT way.” With a gesture he lay the way forward, to the left of the natural flow of the crowd. Ah, there, maybe, some unrestricted, some uncontrolled escape, and some relief lay. It was south and so we would do it. And so, on Tree-Man’s word, whole swarms of people moved in that direction, heeding his vision from his perch, but mostly, relying on his certitude.
“Keep moving left, Dad.” My own charge directed and set out at a thirty degree angle from our path, towards some open space.
“Alright, alright. Just be patient. We’ll get there.” Moving with the swarm, lemmings leapt to mind. Then again, even in their supposed behavioral folly, lemmings…have long survived.
Closer to our short-term goal, others climbed atop the porta-potties and danced from white roof to white roof, finding an expressway above the mob. We laughed: so brazen, so ridiculous. Would we have the guts to do the same anytime in our lives? Two port-a-pot leapers chose to take up uncertain positions atop the noisome things (it was too cold to notice, I think) and waved to those who would pay heed—their own part of the throng—around the “necessaries,” one affirming Tree-Man’s anointed safe escape, the other indicating a contrary direction. We chose to follow two-out-of-three unsolicited directions.
We found ourselves half-way through and a grandmotherly lady wearing a long brown fur coat around her body and a round hat (matching) on her head moved tentatively over the brown chalky ground. She was walking with her arm around another lady’s, who had taken her and was talking friendly and slowed her own pace solicitously to match the old woman’s.
Amidst all this company, the old lady had lost her group and, in this kind of crowd, someone who was lost alone and old could have had a life’s dose of fear and near-panic. Instead, a Saint took her arm; in this gathering, malice was absent.
A few dozen paces passed under their joined step when the younger woman’s companion, a man of forty-four or forty-five leaned in to the older lady: “Give me a name, dear.” He took two paces. “Who did you come with?”
“Lulu.” She said quietly, barely audibly. “Lulu. She’s my grand-daughter.”
“Lulu?” Repeated the man. She nodded. Then, taking two big steps, he cleared his throat and addressed the sea of people with a loud “LOOO-LOO!” Again, and towards his left: “LOOO-LOO!”
Heads swiveled and looked his way, but there was no reply. The plodding pace of the crowd advanced. There was only one way Lulu would be found in this crowd: by grace.
The hero kept at it: “LOO-LOOOOO! Your grandma is looking for YOU, GIRL!” The Samaritan yelled with an enviable lack of self-consciousness.
We walked and scanned the crowd. People moved to the crowd’s cadence, but no raised, gloved hand appeared.
“Loo-LoooH?” One more time. We looked around. Still, except for the breathing and the walking.
She gripped her escort’s arm. “That’s alright. I’ll find them. They’ll find me.”
Grandmother trudged steadily but without weariness, the day’s pride warming her from the inside, a stranger’s comfort fast around her arm.
Jan 20, 2009