I watched the inaugural ceremonies from a BarcaLounger at the Smilow Cancer Center. I was undergoing my fourth chemotherapy infusion to treat a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

The energy at the Center was supercharged. At the first notes of our national anthem, a patient rose and some nurses stood at attention. When the oath of office was administered, cheers erupted.

In spite of the necessary medical ministrations, most of us were keenly focused on President Biden’s words. At the end, one nurse gave a patient a high five. Others of us nodded, applauded and made eye contact. It is likely that some would have preferred a different outcome, but we were caught up in the moment.

Smilow patients are in various stages of cancer protocols. Some of us may not live to see the next inauguration, so we made the most of this one. Ironically, the setting lifted me up. It was cathartic to have a shared experience, a rare gift in the Covid era.

The patient across from me—a woman with whom I had instant simpatico—rocked and sang “Amazing Grace” along with Garth Brooks. We smiled and tacitly recognized a song that is seminal in American life. 

Amanda Gorman’s moving poem and powerful delivery reminded me that talent and passion can reside in the young and we would all do well to listen. The final “Amen” after the benediction capped a series of rituals steeped in tradition, but also in spiritual significance.

Though I’m part of a cohort I never expected to join, the experience has reminded me about the importance of belonging. We are all part of a family, a community, and a sturdy nation. In spite of our differences, today gave us an olive branch. It’s up to us to take it.

The woman across from me whose name I don’t know gathered up her scarf and coat in preparation to leave.

“Good luck,” I said.

“Good luck, Sweetheart,” she answered.

I have a new addition to my prayer list.

Photo: Deborah Stoff

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