Thursday, January 13, 2011

The President

.... You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations - to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

After all, that's what most of us do when we lose someone in our family - especially if the loss is unexpected. We're shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward - but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame - but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions - that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed - they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis - she's our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America's fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives - to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That's what I believe, in part because that's what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called "Faces of Hope." On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child's life. "I hope you help those in need," read one. "I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles."

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we've lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

Well done, Sir.


Ellen Kimball said...

Thanks for posting the transcript, Sid. For a moment, I thought it was YOUR writing -- but then I realized I had heard those words earlier tonight...

It's odd. While I was reading this, I heard it not in Obama's voice, but the deep, rich voice of my deceased father, Leonard L. Kimball, who won awards at the University of Michigan for his college debating and speaking skills.

Dad would have loved this speech, and I think he would have enjoyed knowing that a black man from Illinois was now President of the United States. I remember that I was introduced to politics as a young teenager a few years older than Christina. Found this photo from 1952:

Anonymous said...

Great Speach,
couldn't even see when he turned to face Mecca...


Anonymous said...

Excellent speech. Hopefully this quiets the finger pointing and infllamatory speech for a while.


Anonymous said...

Jeez, Ellen,
not everything's about YOU...
I counted 8 "I"s and a "My" in your 3 paragraphs.
And nobody cares what anyone's father did, MY Dad dropped bombs on North Vietnamese Schools, I mean Factories, do you here ME bragging about it?
Seriously, your dad got awards for speaking? Clap Clap Clap.


Anonymous said...

Why don't you mute Drackman? What a creep.

SeaSpray said...

Frank - I know you are being you and you and Dr S enjoy the off the wall sparring ... and Ellen is probably used to the razzing, but she is a sweet lady... play nice with her. :)

Nice to see you out and about Ellen. :)

Sid Schwab said...

Jill: I can't defend it. I do delete some of his stuff, which tells you how bad it must have been. I guess I keep thinking he's only half serious... As I said, I can neither defend nor explain it.

Sid Schwab said...

Seaspray: believe it or not, I didn't publish a couple of your comments to keep you from getting a ration of sh*t. In fact, I've not published a couple of comments directed at you.

I do go over the top sometimes; but your comment about Dershowitz was not just that he explained what "blood libel" is, but that he wasn't bothered by Palin's use of it, as if that made it okay. I pointed out in a couple of subsequent comments that he hardly is the final answer on whether it was offensive or not. Nor does it change the fact that it was a blown opportunity on her part to be wise. Obama's far better tone wasn't just because he was speaking at a service. It's because he's far better at rising above the personal. She never made it past high school sensibilities (or lack thereof.)

Nor have I ever suggested it was her and her alone that was responsible for the violence and hatred that's become our political way of life. She's but one of many, nearly all of whom are on the right side. She's deliberately divisive, inflammatory, and paranoid, in very sharp contrast to Obama, but entirely in synch with all of the RWS™, who number far too many to list.

Finally, the fact that there are some Jews who were not offended by her use of the term doesn't change the fact that, as I linked for you, there were also many who were; or, much more importantly, that it was a shallow attempt to make it about her, to get attention. Because that's who she is. And it was, as I've said repeatedly and as you've repeatedly failed to see, internally contradictory even from paragraph to paragraph of her speech.

Since I have the mute button, I can repeat myself all I want, but you can't. On the other hand, I only repeat myself in a vain attempt to make you see what I'm trying to say. When the frustration mounts as my words bounce off, ungrokked, I sometime raise the temperature. For that, I'm sorry. Mostly because it doesn't work. Nothing does.

SeaSpray said...

And so now I wasted alllll that timne ..defending myself and you did not print it.

And I just posted in the other one. and wasted alll that time.

I spoke from my heart.

You censored me.

You allow a lot of vile stuff.

I gave a good explanation and you censored it.

And I doubt you will print the other one now.

Very disappointing that I did not get to defend myself and I did say some good things.

SeaSpray said...

You said, "On the other hand, I only repeat myself in a vain attempt to make you see what I'm trying to say. When the frustration mounts as my words bounce off, ungrokked, I sometime raise the temperature. For that, I'm sorry. Mostly because it doesn't work. Nothing does."


PS - I can only imagine the more hateful comments toward me as compared to the ones I still see. Molly's comments to me over the mosque (Back in September - I think)definitely caused me to say forget this and is why I left. Not worth the bad feelings.

You have seen my comments ...from the *conservative* girl. I do try to be healing and fair and kind. You don't have to agree politically to *respect* another human being.

And you have seen the comments from those you support and are in agreement with.

I ask you ...which comments are vile, cruel and hurtful?

Frank doesn't count. No offense meant because he is intentionally over the top and you two have this sparring thing going on. He's even on your sidebar. And that's nice. Sure is good at riling people up though.

But, I know I do not spew mean things at people and tell them how they think, what their news sources are or how they will vote. I know not to generalize and lump everyone into the same mold. And despite what anyone here thinks ...I am an independent thinker and the very fact that I repeatedly have to defend that is ludicrous and even more ludicrous is my thinking I am heard or taken seriously.

Your apology is accepted and I apologize for any angst I have caused you or your readers.

To answer BL ..I genuinely came in here to find common ground and praise the president and the event for healing and inspiration.

The rising star comment was a sincere observation on my part ..not a vote. I explained my observation in the comment posted in the older post.

I did not know that stating Sarah Palin is a rising star would be such a HOT button! But that I see it is ..I have to ask ...what are you all so afraid of? If she is the moron and all the bad things you say about her should not be afraid. She'll fizzle out.

Sid Schwab said...

Not afraid of her; in fact, I hope she's the nominee. But, as ought to be obvious, I am afraid of what is says about our country that someone so shallow, so ill-informed, so intentionally divisive, so self-absorbed, so easy with lies, could be considered by ANYONE to be presidential material; or, for that matter, even worth listening to.

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