My fellow Canadians:

Did you have your noses pressed against the glass of history yesterday?

I know I did. In my case, the glass was the 56-inch Sony at our house, a.k.a. the Big Unit, and let me tell you, it was the catbird seat.

Canadians have an odd, passive relationship with the United States: We watch it on TV.

Even more so these days because it’s getting tough to go there. You have to wait a couple hours in a lineup at the border, and when you get there, there’s a 26-cent premium on everything, so you can’t even get a decent bargain any more.

But I digress.

For about 60 years, endlessly fascinated, we have watched America become the world’s most powerful nation … on television. We loved Lucy, grokked Spock, mourned Kennedy, got lifted up by Martin Luther King, observed Shock and Awe in shock and awe. We worshipped the American Idol and tried to copy it, although the Canadian version invariably can’t sing.

Aretha Franklin can sing. Boy, can she ever. Even now, when’s she’s old and stout. And that’s when I lost it yesterday, just before Barack Obama was sworn in, Aretha got up and with a choir of angels, belted out “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,” on the steps of the Capitol building.

Somehow, even though it is sung to the tune of God Save the Queen, My Country ’Tis of Thee is an entirely American song. Maybe it’s the refrain that Aretha sang and sang and sang over again, circling around the pitch like a Motown voodoo goddess: “Let freedom ring!”
And that’s when, I’m not ashamed to say, I lost it. Tears streamed down my face, and I succumbed to the joyful season finale/debut of the longest running series on TV — from Birmingham, through Dallas, via Chicago, through Kent State, down Route 66 to Watts, to the jungles of Vietnam, under the hanging chads of Florida, onto the streets of Baghdad, through Wall Street, to the Lincoln Memorial, to the inauguration of Barack Obama.

But they had me at Aretha and Let Freedom Ring. In one three-minute funky fanfare, she sang away the bitter shadows of the last decade, the harrowing, vicious, sardonic cynicism of the Bushes, the Cheneys and the Roves, and heralded the possibility of what we too easily refer to as “hope” and “change.”

Barack Obama stands for something more rich and sonorous than mere hope and change, but I can’t really describe it; I can only watch and listen from the other side of the glass and hope they never take this marvellous reality TV show off the air.

It’s my favourite.

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