Promises and pianos
This past Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, a little presidential history was made. Barack Obama took the oath of office for the presidency of the United States for the fourth time, which has only happened once before in our history.
FDR also did it, having won four elections, but Obama’s hat trick plus one was just trivia. Since Chief Justice Roberts fumbled the oath a bit back on Jan. 20, 2009, they re-did it in the Oval Office, just to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. Just in case someone questioned the legitimacy of the Obama presidency, which of course would never happen.
And this year, since Jan. 20, the constitutionally mandated date to take the oath, fell on a Sunday, and apparently the inauguration folks didn’t want to compete with the NFL, Obama took it again in the Oval Office, and then on Monday before the world. Just a quirky bit of presidential trivia.
It’s still historic, as was Jan. 21, and not just because we inaugurated a president. That was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, an odd holiday, the only one devoted to a single American who never served in the highest office.
This is not quirky at all, and in fact I think it speaks well for us, and our troubled history, but while I noted it there was more on my mind that Monday than closed banks and no mail delivery.
I watched the inaugural address, and liked it fine, particularly the president’s call to our history. It seems a miracle, not minor at all, that a pretty rag-tag group of patriots, along with some unmatched Enlightenment intellects, cobbled together a nation and somehow built it to last, through blood and tears and war.
Mostly, though, I was struck by an almost incidental flourish: That the presidential oath, which I’m sure both the president and the chief justice know pretty well by now, is not all that different from a variety of oaths we all take, on entering the military, on becoming naturalized citizens, on testifying in a court of law.
And in promising each other, which is why this specific Monday in January was particularly important to me.
I made a promise 30 years ago, you see, on Jan. 21, 1983, and in my mind a lot of it had to do with a piano.
It was my wife’s piano, given to her by her father, although she wasn’t my wife at the time. She wasn’t even my girlfriend; she was just my future, an uneasy fact that we’d both come to understand over a few months of reluctant dancing around serious issues, mostly involving other people, and this culminated 30 years ago today in a friend offering some spare rooms in his house for a couple of futurists.
So I spent that day moving her piano into a home we would share for a few months before we got married, and while I wouldn’t call it a sacrifice, I’d note that moving a piano involves little joy and less humor, at least this side of a Laurel and Hardy movie.
It was huge, of course, this sudden move. There was no burning building to enter but we left a few smoldering bridges, and we knew there was no going back.
We even kept our cohabitation a secret as long as we could, just because the whole thing felt a little distasteful. I mean, we were coworkers, with other relationships, and somehow all that working together, those nights after work was done, those conversations, that sudden realization that innocent flirting and suggestiveness had done the most human of things, turned into true love.
You gotta respect true love, or else the rest of your life you live with that hole, and we had respect.
We got married six months later, although we knew we would. We just needed a place to start, to break away from one life and begin another, and we did it 30 years ago this week, a fact that my wife, sleeping in on Monday morning, getting this holiday off, was unaware of until she saw the roses I bought. That’s OK; I’m sort of a date person, I remember.
I remember everything, actually, when it comes to that day, and if I look hard I can see where we are, having cascaded down three decades together, joys and trials, arguments and lovely afternoons, all created because of a choice.
And I’m awfully glad we made the one we did. I love you, Julie Kae, you and your stupid piano, which still sits in this house. I loved that A-frame in the mountains we first shared together, and the giant sweeps of snow we had that winter.
We went outside once and played in it, sensing the romance in all that whiteness and hidden roads, and no one should ever wonder why I get romantic about snow, never ever.
And while our official oath would not come until July, standing before a minister, surrounded by friends and family, the red rocks of Sedona, Ariz. as our backdrop, I do believe promises were made all the same.
The usual ones, of course; for better or worse, in sickness and in health. Moving large objects around various houses, etc.
But mostly the oath I took that stressful day, three decades ago, the one I could only barely grasp at the time, and which only now has become clear, and full of truth. It’s been a long time, eventful time, with children and careers, and ups and downs, and what I would have tentatively sworn then I do today, secure and sure.
I would do it again.