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January 20, 2005
The photographs of the fireworks over the White House last night are gorgeous. I remember thinking two years ago that the deadly explosions in Baghdad looked and sounded just like fireworks, and haven't really felt the same about fireworks since.

That explosive beauty, that veiled threat: fireworks are all about a narrow escape from danger, pantomiming great power that does not come near, does not blow us to bits. The thunderclap of them vibrates the very bones of us, resonates in our chests -- our hearts must stop a bit when they hear the BOOM!

I have a little something in my chest that does something like that: not an explosion, but a tiny electric shock that helps my heart decide not to slow down and stop. I wonder what Heidi the pacemaker thinks of fireworks. I don't get it, she must think, listening to the BOOM! as she hums vigilantly away, they go to all the trouble to put me in here and then they want to blow themselves up.

But the fireworks are perfectly safe. They are a safe distance away, and safety officials keep everything safe and secure. They are supposed to make us feel more secure: a bomb that does not kills us, a bomb that makes gorgeous orange flowers in the night sky that disappear without hurting a fly. Don't worry. We run the bombs; we run everything. You're perfectly safe.

Some people aren't, though. Explosions and fire in Baghdad, in Kirkuk, real explosions and real fire, orange and yellow blossoms that do not fade harmlessly away. Ah, I see: we are not the only ones who run bombs. So do others. Some of them are bombs, themselves. Human bombs.

Lord, have mercy.

Today in Washington will be a day of something approaching majesty, a word Americans don't like to use about their government. A day all about money and power: more money than has ever been spent on one of these days in the history of the republic, and more power than is wielded by anyone else in the world.

If there is true majesty in the day, though, I think it is not to be found in its unseemly opulence. There is moral majesty in a system of government that has taught us to respect an office even if we did not vote for the man who holds it, to expect the ritual events of transition to unfold in peace and with dignity.

I didn't vote for President Bush last time or this time, but I pray for him every day. And I pray that the election in Iraq, mere days away, will bring them closer to peace and self-determination. That a glimpse of such a ceremony, unaccompanied by murder in the streets, in a city that is not pitted with the craters of bombs, a ceremony attended by political friend and political foe alike, will inspire rather than enrage those for whom such a thing must feel like a happy dream.

I pray this, but do not know what to expect. We shall soon see.
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