Our Washington correspondent, Dr. P. F. “Maleva” Zahl, was on the Mall in Washington yesterday with his wife and some friends to witness the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States.  The good doctor is my oldest friend — we met in seventh grade, in Washington, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, and had many adventures in the very places shown on television yesterday, so he was in my thoughts as I watched the inauguration coverage.  He was kind enough to send this special report of the day:


by Paul Zahl

Mary and I and our friends from Philadelphia left our house in the
near suburbs of Washington very early, taking the Inauguration shuttle
down Connecticut Avenue.

The crowds were not too bad as we walked from Farragut Square over to the Mall entrance nearest the Washington Monument.

[Correspondent Zahl stands on the left, next to his wife Mary with friends.]

It was extremely cold and everyone was bundled up.  The
cold never let up; and in the place where we stood for most of the
morning, at the top of hill by the Monument, the wind was unendingly

Starting around 9:30 the crowd began to build. By 11 the space was absolutely packed.

Most of the baby-boomers present, like ourselves, were white; but
the overwhelming majority of the crowd were young, between 20 and 30. 
Where we were, the people were 90% under 30.  African-Americans were a
large but not majority proportion, although our friends with tickets
much nearer the Capital said the crowd there was 70% African-American. 
Very interesting it was to us that when Rick Warren recited the Lord's
Prayer, the African-Americans around us said it with him, but the
younger white people mostly did not.  I wasn't quite sure what I should
do at that moment.
We liked Pastor Warren's prayer as a whole, but he seemed to be
'imposing' the Lord's Prayer at the end.  We liked the name of Jesus
the way he did it, and there were no 'murmurs' anywhere near us that we
could hear.

When the cold became simply unbearable by the Monument — and we
all had at least five layers on, plus hand warmers — we moved down to
a jumbo-tron screen for President Obama's Inaugural Address.  He had
the complete attention of the thousands on every side of us.  Not one
word avoided being heard.  Mary and I were struck especially by his
listing of virtues such as courage and tolerance and compassion under
the positive adjective “old”.  He appealed to history, and even
primeval history.  We are not people who mind God-talk, so his
invocation of God's Grace seemed to us sincere and helpful.
Mary and I are religious people, and would be on the 'traditional
Christian' side of much (but not all) that is discussed today.  But we
also felt that Barack Obama more truly reflected the Christian
heart-ideas and experience which mean the world to us, than the other
side.  That may sound like a 'no-brainer', but for us it was not.  We
might normally have voted for a Republican given the degree to which
our own lives have been affected, and shattered in truth, by the
culture wars of recent times.  We have felt no more warmth from the Left,
religiously at least, than the secular world feels from the Right. 
Nevertheless, we could not vote for someone whose foreign policy
involves a “doctrine” of pre-emption . . . and no talking
with our enemies, and so forth.

We also see in Barack Obama something
that our little Episcopal Church culture wars never produced, neither
from the Left nor from the Right: a statesman, who listens without condescension, i.e.,
with felt interest and even sympathy, to those with whom he disagrees. 
If only our own context professionally, which is a denomination of
Christians in 21st Century America, had produced a person like this man
seems to us to be.  If only that, we would not be, with many, many of
our old friends and colleagues, in a broken, split, and bitter

I am glad, therefore, to be living and working in Washington this
year.  It meant that we could witness these things with our own eyes. 
It means, too, that we can aspire to the statesmanship and grace which
live only a few miles away from us down Connecticut Avenue. 
P.S. The one truly uncomfortable moment of the Day had nothing to
do with the Main Event.  The crowd control as people began to leave the
Mall was awful!  No one had any idea of where to go and what exits were
not blocked.  So you had at least 100,000 people jammed together all
trying to move out but with no idea where they could go.  For a moment
or two it could have been a soccer-stadium disaster.  But then people
just started to climb over the barricades.  Which felt exactly right.