Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Let history show that Rahm Emanuel was inaugurated under a perfect, cloudless azure sky Monday, after dreary days of rain, as if the Lord God Himself were smiling down upon our unified, happy and world-class city, and had divinely puffed away any hint of foreboding or dissent so Chicago could come together as one, join hands and face its vibrant future together in joy, confident that . . .
Sorry. Kidding. Though to be honest, the inauguration was an impressive and at times inspiring ceremony. And the weather was indeed nice, finally, sunny yet apple crisp, a perfect morning to be in Millennium Park. I felt an unfamiliar emotion that I eventually identified as optimism, which I immediately tried to deflect by picking apart the speakers.
Typically, at such events, a member of the clergy is tapped to invoke blessing, which immediately leads to the question of which faith will receive the honor, given the certainty that the unhonored creeds will immediately raise a howl of wounded pride.
This dilemma Emanuel solved in clever fashion by asking: Where is it written you can only have one prayer? Thus we were treated to four, count ’em, four blessings: an Invocation, a Prayer for Peace, a Prayer for Guidance and a Benediction, offered by Cardinal Francis George, Imam Kareem Irfan, Pastor Charles Jenkins and Rabbi Jack Moline.
If the new mayor can bring that kind of slice-the-Gordian-knot resourcefulness to the city’s bigger problems, maybe we’ll be OK.
In terms of pure oratory, Pastor Jenkins, of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, led the pack by far, with a prayer building in intensity in classic, Sunday-go-to-meetin’ style, driving home a dramatic repeated trope of “we confess that we need . . . guidance.”
“If hunger, helpless and homelessness will be thrown into the furnaces of wisdom and be consumed by the answers of sacrifice and understanding,” he thundered, “we confess that we need . . . guidance!”
Imam Irfan was a close second, beginning more in sermon than in prayer.
“Diversity is indeed the great strength of this nation,” he said, with passion. “America’s dazzling spectrum of races, religions, cultures, languages and national origins infuses our society with a unique collective strength.”
Rabbi Moline was last on the program — so late that Jewish readers were already e-mailing me, complaining that Emanuel had stiffed his own people. But he was there, and fans of irony might appreciate that Rabbi Moline was alone among the four clergy to mention Jesus and Mohammed by name — my guess is that while the others were trying to be considerate of the new mayor’s Yiddishkeit, a rabbi faced no such concerns.
As for Cardinal George, well, let’s just say he spoke for two minutes, in his characteristic fashion, and, unlike the others, was not interrupted by laughter or applause.
Regarding Emanuel’s speech; he could take some pointers from Pastor Jenkins. You are allowed to . . . pause . . . for . . . dramatic effect. Emanuel, as he admitted, is not a patient man, and would mashwordstogetherlikethis. Rushing also makes the sibilance worse.
That’s just his oratory style, of course. But speech is also a window to the soul. For all the years the media ridiculed former Mayor Daley’s mangling of syntax, we never paused to wonder why he was often so tongue-tied. When you contrast the dirty details that Daley must have known about but could never allow himself to utter and the probing questions the media was forever hurling at him, naturally he’d descend into giggling non sequiturs. It’s a wonder the man could speak at all.
Perhaps Emanuel rushes over the details because that’s where the devil lies. He talked much about the need to improve education, concluding . . . brace yourselves . . . that parents must become involved. My God, yes, that’s it! Why didn’t anybody think of it before?
Seriously, a good idea, but how to do that?
Emanuel’s a smart, caring man with the raw material for greatness. But just as Daley’s gibbering reflected a deeper flaw, so I can’t help but suspect Emanuel’s headlong hurtle, his try-to-keep-up-with-me-dopes self-assurance will be difficult to maintain in the long run. The elements of the city he is asking to make sacrifices are stunned now, but will recover and mount their resistance. Patience will be an asset. Not everything will go according to his plan, nor should it. Sometimes, you need to wait. Sometimes, you go off schedule.
After the ceremony officially ended, and people were filing out, the Chicago Children’s Choir took the opportunity to launch a song that wasn’t on the official program, the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”
It was poignant to stand there in the lovely park on such a fine day, listening to the words of hope. “We shall overcome someday.” I suppose the new mayor would have preferred “We shall overcome right frickin’ now.” But that isn’t how life works. As my mother-in-law, and maybe his too, liked to say: We plan and God laughs.