Putting our house back in order

  • Jaime O'Neill

  • Matt Davies
 

While Barack Obama was making his inaugural speech, I was vacuuming. I hadn't planned to be engaged in that particular activity at that particular moment, but the deliverymen turned up early, bringing us a new bed at precisely the moment the new president began to speak.

The floor was covered with dropcloths when the bed arrived, so there was much rushing around to clear the way for it. Meanwhile, the new president of the United States was on TV and our computer screens, offering the words of change I so much wanted to hear, as did my wife, my visiting daughter, and the two young men who were unloading our new bed. While most of America was frozen for this historic moment, events kept the five of us in motion, though our eyes seldom strayed from the TV screen, even as we vacuumed the floor and set up the bed.

This is how human history is lived out: Pomp and circumstance unfold on the stage while the most mundane human activities continue behind the scenes. And it is for those mundane moments that we all work, so that the ordinary activities of all our ordinary days can be lived out in peace. We agonize over how to vote because it is important that we put people in charge who will make it possible for ordinary life to continue — for some of us to buy things like beds while others of us deliver them.

The men who delivered our new bed get the majority of their work through a department store chain now facing bankruptcy, one of the many endangered businesses littering the landscape of American commerce. If that store goes down, then the livelihoods of those two men will be imperiled, along with the dignity of the work they do. But even as we see the loss of old standards like Circuit City and Mervyn's and witness the many smaller businesses dashed by a withering economy, we take hope from the change in leadership that occurred while some Americans were still delivering mail or mattresses, still vacuuming their floors.

If I'd had my druthers, I would have preferred a calmer morning in which to hear President Obama's inaugural speech. I would have liked to have been sipping my coffee when the chief justice of the Supreme Court mangled the administration of the oath of office.

But history, like life itself, happens while we're making other plans. So I was vacuuming the bedroom carpet while a much-loved new president was giving his first speech, and I was moving furniture while a much-despised former president circled the nation's Capitol in the helicopter assigned to take him away.

But perhaps vacuuming was actually the most appropriate way to observe and honor this transition. After all, our new leader faces a huge task of cleaning up. A lot of dust has accumulated underneath the national bed over the past eight years. The stains on the fabric of our national honor need scrubbing, though there are some that may never come out.

The two young men finished assembling the new bed, and then the five of us stood for a moment in front of the TV, marveling at the size of the crowd that stretched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument and beyond. We were silent in the presence of all that, and then the press of other deliveries stirred the two workers to break the reverie. My wife signed the paperwork attesting to the delivery, and one of the deliverymen said, "You'll always remember you got this bed on the day Barack Obama became president of the United States."

The delivery truck pulled out of the driveway. Our cat came in from outside to survey the new surroundings. Our younger daughter called during a break in her teaching duties to offer a "high-five" by phone. Then I called my mother to share the afterglow of the events we'd witnessed. When that conversation ended, we returned to the task of putting our house back in order.

The nation will wake to a brand-new day — and my wife and I will sleep in a brand-new bed. All of us face a future not yet known, or knowable. But our new leader has told us there is work to be done by all of us. And so there is. Let's get started.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.