Thursday, January 13, 2011

Follow President Obama's example

As so many persist in trying to shoehorn Saturday's tragedy in Tucson into the neverending partisan skirmishes and the inevitable blame game, trying to seek advantage for whatever ideological side to which you belong, we should all follow the example of President Obama who, in one of his finest moments since he took office, rose above all the rancor and spoke from the heart and to the nation in an effort to heal rather than divide. Some notable excerpts from his speech at Wednesday night's memorial service:
And our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby's office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive. We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer's ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives. And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who'd been hurt.

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned - as it was on Saturday morning.

Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us. It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward. How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?

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."

Then, from later in Obama's speech.
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."

We all owe it to Christina's memory to try to live up to her young, burgeoning example and stop the nonsense. We should follow President Obama's example and rise above it. Let the Fred Phelps and Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and other hatemongers of the world show themselves for who they are and let us show that we are far better than that by refusing to get dragged even close to their level. Do it for Christina.

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  • It's a shame that many refuse to see there is no fine line between incendiary rhetoric and just plain crazy. It's all crazy.


    By Blogger Jersey McJones, at 9:17 PM  

  • I guess that means they should have banned Taxi Driver 30 years ago for getting Hinckley obsessed with Jodie Foster and causing him to shoot Reagan. It really makes me sad that people whose views I would otherwise agree with have become so obsessed by the rhetoric of the right that they feel the need to blame them for everything. Loughner's crazy has shown absolutely no evidence of a link to the nuttiness. It preceded the Tea Party. It preceded Obama even being thought to have a chance at the nomination. Too many of my allies on the left seem to want to continue this madness as much as the loons on the right do. The GOP officeholders for the most part have been well behaved since Tucson. It's just the talk radio wackjobs who make their living off it and their followers who go on. The media would do best if they just ignored them entirely. You need oxygen to keep a fire going, so remove their oxygen. Democrats and Republicans have differences but they don't have to be distracted by the noise of the rancorous few. They are so loud that it makes it appear that there are more of them than there are.

    By Blogger Edward Copeland, at 10:38 PM  

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