Last night the President of the United States, Barack Obama, spoke to the nation as part of the Tucson Memorial Service. In his message, which was as good a sermon as any preacher could give, he called on the nation to rise above the divisions and disagreements of the day to honor the memories of those who died in Saturday's tragic shooting, to lift up those who are recovering from wounds, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and to honor those whose heroism that day saved lives and demonstrated all that is good in us as human beings. He reminded us that even though we cannot always keep evil at bay, we can decide to treat each other appropriately. It is in our power to do what is right, even if others choose not to do so.
In what was a masterful and moving speech, President Obama rose above partisanship, including the pettiness that has marked much of the "debate" in recent days, and moved our attention to the people who were most affected by this event. He spoke both of the evil in the world and the goodness present, but while he called on us to have moral compass, he didn't lay things out in stark black and white terms, as many have sought to do. As this President is so aware, this a world of great complexity, where easy answers are few. What he did was simply to call us to a higher level of life in the nation:
“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 in a way that wounds”
Perhaps the most moving part of the speech came near the end, as President Obama lifted up the memory of the youngest victim, Christina Green, and called on us to live up to the ideals that moved this young nine-year-old girl to go that day to meet her Congressional Representative. He noted that Christina had yet to be affected by the "cynicism and vitriol that we as adults seem to take for granted," and then called on us to live up to her expectations of us as a country and as human beings. I do believe that this is a calling to which we can and must embrace, even as we take up difficult issues of mental health, gun control/regulation, free speech, and more. Christina Green has given us a new vision; let us embrace it now.
Indeed, as the President said in closing:
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.