- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
This week brought both the 57th inauguration of a U.S. president and the 19th Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
The primary focus Monday was on the inauguration. When Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term he took an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It is an oath of public service that is part of Article 2 of that very document Obama pledged to protect.
In his inaugural address, Obama noted that those who serve in Congress have made similar pledges, and that all of them were “an oath to God and country, not party or faction.”
Later, at a lunch with congressional leaders, he acknowledged those with whom he was at odds during his first term: “I recognize that democracy is not always easy, and I recognize there are profound differences in this room, but I just want to say thank you for your service and I want to thank your families for their service, because regardless of our political persuasions and perspectives, I know that all of us serve because we believe that we can make America for future generations.”
The notion of public service has at times been sullied by bad behavior on the part of some individuals entrusted with public office and by frustration with the collective inability in the recent past of elected officials to act in the nation’s best interest.
However, for one day at least, the service of the nation’s leaders was acknowledged and reaffirmed. But the president’s address also included an acknowledgment of many others who serve: “The words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream” to become an American citizen, or the pledge citizens make to the flag of this country.
This was a welcome nod to public service on a less grand scale than that affirmed on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. St. Mary’s County includes many residents who took that oath when they joined the military. It includes many who are devoting their lives to service in the classroom, in agencies and nonprofit groups that provide for the common good, and in volunteer activities that knit this community together.
And earlier this month, those who knew him mourned the death and recalled the public service of John Savich, who as county adminstrator devoted his energy and skills to the difficult task of making local goverment work in ways that are both humane and effective for citizens and for the people holding government jobs.
During a week when the nation celebrated and reaffirmed its values and ideals of service, it is King’s words that bring those ideals within reach of each of us: “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”