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Small details can have great meaning.

On the morning of the inauguration, my wife put raspberries, pears and blueberries in my daughter’s cereal — red, white & blue, you understand. Then for our lunch celebration, my daughter had this little scene waiting on the table.

Even small details sometimes have great meaning. Inauguration Day ’21 was a huge celebration in my house, and I still can’t tell which was stronger in us, joy or relief. But when feelings are intense and much is at stake, human beings tend to ritualize. That’s exactly what we did.

Four years of Trumpian horrors have reminded America — as American national crimes have in the past — to think and feel deeply about democracy. One conclusion of mine: Democracy’s most essential home is in the hearts of the people. 

This isn’t a new idea, but the luster it gives off has nothing to do with mere novelty. Flag colors in a cereal bowl were meant to be funny, but meant much more too.

Like millions of Americans, we were ACHING to celebrate. And, in fact, not just out of relief, though our relief was intense.  But also out of a very practical kind of joy, one that runs deeper even than current political events.

Some years ago I was on a crowded L.A. freeway doing 70 with the flow, when suddenly all the vehicles around me slammed on their brakes. I always keep my distance, but I had to brake so hard my tires smoked and screeched. Must’ve left 30 feet of rubber. Somehow I kept the car upright, in its lane, and out of the trunk of the car ahead of me. And as it happened, I was delighted to realize I’d been calm under that

pressure.

That and a couple of other such incidents have given me more peace when I drive, even in regularly insane Bay Area traffic. I’m more at ease, more confident. Because I’ve been tested, and I came through. 

That’s exactly how I’m feeling right now about American democracy.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s so much waiting to be done it sometimes feels like we’re at the foot of the mountain. And for all the surreal and pathetic aspects of the Trump administration, it was a genuine assault on democracy, which became clearer week by week. 

But as the UK’s Daily Mail put it, “Don’s Gone — Let’s Go, Joe!” And now even the Proud Boys and similar yahoos are calling Trump a failure, rats looking back at a sinking ship. 

I realized that all the emotion in our house that day happened because we’ve essentially missed the last four Fourth of Julys. On those summer days we felt shame and embarrassment for our country, not to mention anger and fear. 

No surprise we’d squeeze four years’ worth of deferred pride and civic optimism into Biden and Harris’ inauguration.

And once again I’m amazed at the seemingly natural way good can come out of bad. Right now democracy is living — hell, shining bright! — in millions and millions of American hearts.

Tim J. Myers, who grew up in Colorado Springs, is a writer, storyteller, songwriter, visual artist and senior lecturer at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. His work has made the New York Times bestseller list for children’s books, has been reviewed in the Times, and read aloud on NPR, among other honors.  Find him at TimMyersStorySong.com and at facebook.com/TimJMyers1.