There on the new day – Carl Newton reflects on the inaugural

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By Roger Snodgrass

Carl Newton figures he overcame enough obstacles to qualify for the little bit of viewing space he struggled to occupy at the inauguration of President Barack Obama two weeks ago.


He wanted to be there he said to celebrate the victory and show his support for all the people who worked so hard to bring about that moment of change. What he got out of it was a rededication to a set of values that he thought had gone missing for a long time in the American landscape.


“It was probably the first time I voted with such affirmation,” he said. “This was a guy who was worthy of taking on responsibilities.”


Newton, a retired physicist from Los Alamos National Laboratory, deeply involved in church work and civil rights issues, and his son Randy, an engineer and theater technical director, were ready for the bitter cold and the traffic and chaos of a million people on the Capitol mall.


“We made preparedness lists,” Carl Newton said, recalling some of the forethought that got him through Jan. 20: “Check out the parking at Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station in Fairfax County. Buy SmartTrip Metro cards. Leave non-essentials behind. Don't count on using our out-of-area cell phones for reuniting if we're separated. Select which Jumbotron will be our target when we reach the Mall.”


Just before the inauguration, Newton heard a sermon that gave the historic moment a deeply spiritual dimension. The sermon drew an analogy between Martin Luther King and Moses.


“I’ve been to the mountain top,” said King in his prophetic speech just before he died in Memphis, echoing the Biblical story. “And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”


But then the listeners were told to turn the page to the Book of Joshua. Joshua was Moses’ apprentice and successor. Moses didn’t survive the journey out of Egypt, and in the Bible Joshua was the one who conquered Canaan.


The message that came through to Newton was, “Get up and get ready!” he said. “Obama is the one who can lead us there. He’s solid. He’s paid his dues. He’s believable.”


In an essay he wrote later, Newton recorded some of the day’s movements and impressions.


“On Tuesday morning we were up at 3.30 a.m., on a Metro train by 5 and on the Mall by 6, amongst thousands of shivering folks bouncing like Indian dancers to keep their feet warm.


“At 7, the video Jumbotrons came on with advice about staying safe or obtaining help.”


“We watched the Jumbotrons for about two hours while the dignitaries arrived at the Capitol and took their seats around the podium. The really big show lasted little more than half an hour. Obama’s delivery was smooth, and his message was just what we longed to hear from someone holding his office.


“Sharing the joys and hopes of more than a million others from these United States was an extraordinary experience. It seemed as though most everyone had experiences with a history of discrimination, and believed that a new day and new life was at hand to celebrate.”


On reflection, Newton said he thought the “freedom of equality” seemed to be the promise of the day, and a reminder of Lincoln’s idea of democracy: “As I would not be a slave, I would not be a master.”


Another inspiration Newton has carried back to New Mexico has to do with trying to practice Obama’s willingness to sit down with the other side.


“We’re going to have ploughshares in our meetings and not swords,” he said with determination. “Having a lifted spirit is a great way of getting up for the next challenge.”


Carl Newton’s presentation, “Living the Dream by readying ourselves for the Promised Land” will be the focus of a forum from 10:10-10:55 a.m. Feb. 8 at the Unitarian Church, of Los Alamos.