“I want to take a look one more time. I’m not going to see this again.” President Barrack Obama had just finished his second Inaugural Address and was about to enter the West Front of the Capitol when he uttered those words, turning to look back at the National Mall. The several hundred thousand people there had just witnessed the renewal of an old tradition and cheered him throughout. But in that fleeting moment, whether we voted for him or not, the President offered us a model of how to live with a full awareness of the preciousness and passing of time.
Others have offered a different example. The great Negro Major League pitcher, Satchell Paige, advised “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you,” only half in jest. Reaching further into our history we find the cautionary biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot is the nephew of Abraham, one of the few good men in that iniquitous place. He and his wife are permitted to leave before God’s destruction of the two cities, but there is a catch. They are instructed by angels not to look back. When Lot’s wife does she is turned into a pillar of salt, apparently because her action signaled a feeling of regret.
The President survived his look back, seeking to live in that moment just a little bit longer. Perhaps it was to absorb the history that he was participating in and appreciate all the people who traveled far to be there, mostly for him. Perhaps because it simply felt good, the kind of headiness a few of us feel in a moment of glory, but almost never on that scale. Perhaps because he knew that nothing lasts forever.
Savor the moment — that is one message we can take from what Obama did. But it needn’t be a grand historical event and we needn’t be President. It could be our daughter’s wedding or just mowing the grass. All the moments, every moment of life is here and then gone. Look, listen, breathe, smell, touch, compete, immerse, live to the fullest. Take nothing for granted, neither the commonplace nor the unexpected; neither the pain nor the pleasure.
We are participating in history, too. Our own. The President’s words apply equally well to all of us:
“I want to take a look one more time. I’m not going to see this again.”
You can see the moment I’ve described and hear the Presidents words by clicking on the link: Obama 2013 Inauguration Departure.
The image at the top is President Barrack Obama in front of a Portrait of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 2009 by Peter Souza, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.