Going into today’s inauguration, I could acknowledge the significance of Americans electing our first Black, South Asian, and woman Vice President, but I could not feel it. “What a historic moment,” I said this morning, with zero effect. Four years of Donald Trump’s white supremacist presidency, the ravages of a tragically mismanaged global pandemic, and the just days-ago siege on the Capitol, had manifested for me as unshakeable numbness, a survival response to the constant horrors and outrages.
All emotions other than anxiety and fear had been frozen in ice. I could point at but not feel those emotions.
Then I watched this morning as Harris stood with her hand raised and solemnly swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” the final part seeming newly relevant. I watched Harris smile as she finished her pledge, standing across from Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, and officially became our Vice President. As she made history. I watched as Biden shouted a celebratory, “All right!” The ice thawed.
What were these wet things falling out of the corners of my eyes? Oh right, tears. I was crying. Then, weeping? Then laugh-crying. There was not just the fact of a historical vice presidency, but the feeling of it. It was glimmer, a break-through of sensation, which evaporated as soon as Harris returned to her seat, but what a revelatory thrill. E-mo-tions. Hello, again. Good to be reacquainted, if briefly.
Back in November, when I saw friends and family celebrate, even cry about, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ win, I marveled at their ability to feel anything but cautious, heavily caveated relief. I felt alienated from the elation, the chorus of honking cars at the celebratory campaign event, stuck in the now extremely reasonable seeming fear of what might happen next. At this, at least, I felt the suggestion of a new emotion: annoyance at so many people who seemed so free to feel the good.
Today, I became one of the annoying people, as friends and colleagues reported everything from feeling ice-cold numbness to teary eyes to full on messy cries. Many of us are just barely beginning to tentatively negotiate with emerging from four years of collective trauma, a shift that is manifesting in a lot of different ways. The confession of feeling almost starts to feel like a brag. I can feel again! Oh, you still can’t? Or even: You cried? Well, I wept!
There is little to brag about here, though: the inauguration brought me a feeling less of joy than awe at the good kind of history being made, especially amid so much bad history. This backdrop is not what is deserved for the swearing in of our first Black, South Asian, and woman Vice President. It is a moment diminished by the surrounding national context, just as the Georgia Senate win was swiftly and thoroughly upstaged by an attempted coup. It is a moment that should be complicated by Harris’s actual politics, not by the rumbling, core-shaking fear for our democracy. Nevertheless, here we are. I have never been quite so happy to cry.