Editor’s note: Timo and Amy Tavio and their children, Bridget Gompper, Isaac Gompper and Matthew Tavio, were eyewitnesses to history last week when they saw the swearing in of President Barack Obama. Here is Amy’s account, followed by that of her husband.
Dear Friends and Family:
The Tavio family has just returned from a rather spur of the moment trip to DC to witness the swearing in of our 44th President.
Forwarded below is Timo’s account of the trip, with all the details of the events of the day and pictures.
But first I’d like to share with you some lessons we learned as a family from this experience:
Lesson One: Bridget - Terrorists Win If We Live Life in Fear of What-Ifs and Forgo LIVING!After talking to Isaac’s doctor, checking to see if we could book a hotel, etc., what started out as a "wouldn’t it be nice if..." to a "wow, we’re really doing this" moment. And, as I started to quickly pack duffel bags and make a shopping list, it hit Bridget, and she dug in her heels, stuck out her lip, and gave me 20 different excuses of why we couldn’t, shouldn’t go. As we volleyed our way
through the objections, it all came down to FEAR. She was convinced we were going to all go there and die...without a doubt she was certain we were headed to slaughter and terrorists would surely bomb us into oblivion, or we’d be trampled to death, or die of hypothermia. She begrudgingly joined us, though I offered for her to stay behind with a friend. She texted her girlfriends her funeral wishes. She frowned and looked sullenly out the window, tuning our excitement out with her music. But, as you know, enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm, and soon she was talking with hesitant anticipation, as we shopped for boots and long underwear. Timidly, she was ready to learn.
The lesson began...Not going would have been a victory for the terrorists. When we live our lives in fear of the "what ifs", we are robbed of the ability to truly experience living life to its fullest. We miss out on great adventures to distant lands, friendships to be forged, and exotic new foods to please the palette. Be prepared, have a plan, use your head, and go for it. Living life on the sidelines may be safe and secure; but, I venture to say it is a life of boredom paved with regret.
Lesson Two: Isaac - Everyone has within a "Higher Angel" - Moving Beyond Me to WE
As we circled up on the floor of the Pentagon City Mall next to the elevator, grateful for a bite of food and a place to warm up, we somehow ended up with 6 boxes of chicken nuggets instead of a six piece chicken nugget for Isaac when he implored he was still hungry. You’d thought Isaac hit the lottery, or that we habitually starved the kid with how excited he was about having "extra" that he was confidently ready to take with him and eat later on the train, when we found one not too full to squeeze us in. Luckily, the mall was attached to a Metro stop, so after regrouping, we headed into the underground tunnel to walk to our next adventure. We passed a homeless man, old and wizened, gnarled and dirty, sitting on the side of the long, dark, chilly corridor, panhandling for change. We’ve all seen this man a thousand times. Maybe, if we are so inclined that day we hand over a dollar or two, often we just walk past without making eye contact. How often have we pulled on stereotypes and assumptions to make us feel better about ourselves for NOT helping..."He’ll just use it to buy drugs or booze...he probably could get a job if he tried...he probably makes more money begging then he could working...he’s just lazy, crazy, a bum, etc." Bundled up and trying to keep our kids close to us, we walked past, all of us with that uneasy guilty feeling you can’t totally erase in that situation. We stopped. "Isaac, go give that man your nuggets." Isaac looked up at me, first in disbelief, and then quickly scampered over with the bag outstretched. Bridget watched intently as the man took the bag, smiled a big toothless smile at Isaac and thanked him. Then, without missing a beat, the man opened the bag and feverishly began to eat. As we walked to the train, Bridget said the truth we so often suppress, "Gee Mom, I think that guy really was a homeless man that was hungry ‘cause he ate the chicken right then and there." We continued on our adventure and as I tucked the kids into bed that night, I asked them what they thought they’d remember the most...the responses were to be expected, "Hearing Obama", "all the people cheering and waving flags," "walking all that way in the crowd in the cold." I said, I’d remember Isaac feeding that man and the look of gratitude on his face as he offered his humble thanks.
The lesson began...Isaac said, "Mommy, isn’t that what President Obama was talking about today in his speech that we need to take care of each other more." Most street people are really down on their luck, really cold, really homeless, really hungry, and really have no hope or can see no way out to get to a better life...they simply exist on the crumbs of humanity. 1 in 500 may be scamming the system, a raging alcoholic, or a drug user, but do we not reach out because of our own judgment and worry that they may be that bad apple 1, and overlook that they are likely one of the 499. Why? We are in an economic mess that most of us have never had to endure before in our lifetimes. Many, many more people are simply one paycheck away from the street themselves, going to bed hungry, watering down the milk, and are too proud to reach out. When they do, you know they have hit the end. They have relinquished their pride and taken a bit of hope in the compassion of a fellow American. If we can spare a dollar or a box of nuggets, shouldn’t we?
Lesson Three: Timo and I - Burying the Remnants of Racism
This lesson is a painful one to admit, as in general, "we" like to consider our family a rather liberal and inclusive one. But, the trip to DC taught us all that we too harbored stereotypes and cultural incompetencies (ie underlying racism) that we were raised with and had not yet totally freed ourselves from completely. One on one, we are both pretty colorblind in our daily lives. Yet expose us to a really large group that doesn’t look like us, where we are in the minority, and were definitely venturing outside our comfort zone. Timo, coming from Finland, and I from Maine, were not exposed to a whole lot of racial or ethnic diversity in our youths. Timo attended college in Bridgeport, where the students were warned to stay on campus and away from the locals for there was gang violence, robberies, etc. I was held up at gunpoint in my 20’s at work by a sharply dressed, well spoken black man. For years, I would tense up when a black man stood behind me in a line. We’ve purposely, in our adulthood, over time, worked on ourselves to uncover and overcome any bit of racism we might still hold, knowingly or subconsciously. On the way up, Timo and I were wondering if we would feel comfortable on the mall. We talked of how it was important to do this with our kids, to share this experience with them that we are all just Americans, to come together as a country to acknowledge and celebrate an accomplishment that has indeed chipped away at the remnants of racism that do still exist in our society. (It is funny how each generation does a better job of raising their children to be more accepting, even if they are still at times themselves still faking it until they make it.) We instructed the kids on what to do if we got separated. We planned what little we would carry and how we’d keep it "safe." All our latent fear, all those deep seeded unspoken stereotypes we still harbored in some way, were all bubbling up within us both. All were completely unfounded! There, in the crowds, we were not black or white; we were all excited, tearfully joyous, friendly, sociable, chatty Americans. On that mall, we transcended race. In the words of Will Smith, from today’s USA Today, we were "no longer African Americans or Irish Americans" but simply a new race..."American."
The lesson continued...refreshed and exuberant we woke this morning in Dunn, North Carolina to a new day, shiny and bright, with that extra sense of promise, beauty, and hope that comes with a fresh layer of white snow sticking to the tree branches and hillsides. We had our breakfast and hit the road, newspaper in hand, and a promise to the kids, we’d stop and play at the first rest area in the snow. Reading the paper out loud in the car, we wanted to know if they had ventured a guess of how many people were there. We knew it was more than a million, had to be, with the crowd we had been in. There it was in print. Approximately 1.8 million people crowded onto the mall (a new record). And, more impressive, as of 6 p.m. Tuesday night, there had not been a single arrest. We stopped at the first rest area we came to, and played in the snow. A young, black mother was also there with her four kids, from Polk County, FL, experiencing snow for the first time, like Matthew. They too were headed home from the inauguration. All the kids were playing in the snow. They admired our little snowman and we talked about why we don’t eat snow in public places. We chatted about the future, our kids, our optimism. It takes effort to let go completely of that which we deny we hold within ourselves. But with effort, I think we can finally reach that tipping point where we do move beyond. It’s definitely a consciousness thing. And, it is freeing to go there. But, it proved to Timo and I that this work to embrace diversity is never done, but we are continual works in progress.
My friends and family...we don’t all come from the same place, the same experiences, the same values, or belief systems. We are not all liberal or conservative, but are everywhere along the spectrum and I appreciate and value each of you in my life for your differences as well as that which we share in common. As hokey as it sounds, I do believe "change has come to America" and whether you chose this version of change or not, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zones and be a part of it. We have a whole lot of lessons ahead of us. And, I, for one, am excited to be a student!
Just wanted to share the Tavio family’s latest adventure:
As you guys know I have always been a sucker for my wife. On Monday morning Amy said, "Obama’s Inauguration is such an historic event that I wish we could take the kids to see it!" Really, not thinking it through, I said "Well .. why don’t we?" Needless to say, about 1hr later the Tavio family was in the car headed for D.C. We made it to our hotel in D.C. about 1 am on Tuesday after stopping in 4 different Wal-marts in 3 different states before we had long johns, boots, hats, mittens, etc. for all needed for this arctic adventure.
The trip from our hotel to the National Mall was an adventure in itself. (not for faint hearted nor the claustrophobic.) I had serious second thoughts when I had my whole family in the Metro system that obviously was not designed for even one tenth of this crowd. I can’t even describe how full the metro stations were but you will see couple photos in the attached slide show.
What was truly amazing was the vibes and comradery throughout the whole thing. I never saw anybody being pushed nor did I hear any foul language... just couple of million best buddies going for a picnic in the park. Truly amazing!
Only time this crowd wasn’t behaving was when Dick Cheney was announced, (I think it was faded out in TV) but the crowd was booing and singing " Na-na-na-naa Na-na-na-naa hey hey hey GOODBYE!" Can you really blame them?
Of course we would have seen the inauguration better (and lot cheaper) from our TV. I ended up listening to most of the Obama speech in a porta-potti next to the sculpture garden. Matthew really really needed to go really right then and refused to settle for the pull-up Amy had put on him for just in case this occurred.
We did not make it to the parade. Right after the Obama speech our well laid out plan failed big time. There was absolutely no way of going any where else but where the river of people was steering you, however this was not unruly or scary, it was very orderly and everybody was helping each other, protecting children and the elderly, and so on. There was no chance of us getting back to our starting point by the same Metro stop we got there by, so we took a little walking tour of the south side of the city. We actually ended up walking past the Jefferson Memorial, across the Potomac River and past the Pentagon.
First time I ever let my kids go play in the middle of interstate highway (I-395). The trek was approx. 4 miles but amazingly even Matthew wasn’t complaining too much. First place where we could get indoors to warm up was Pentagon City Mall in Virginia,
where we had an inauguration feast of McDonalds and Starbucks. Naturally, we had to sit on a floor since every square feet of mall’s food court was taken.
Eventually we made it back to our hotel where our car had been left, and headed back home that same night, only to end up in a freak heavy snowstorm and slippery roads in North Carolina. We decided that the kid’s will skip another day of school and took a hotel room. Matthew had never seen snow so he was all excited and woke up several times that night just to check from the window that the snow is still there. This morning he got to play in snow for the first time…and did he enjoy it! Well he is mostly a Finnish kid after all. We got home today around 4pm. A little road weary but pleased we did it.
Enjoy the pictures!