Obama's Tucson speech

If a book or story or movie or speech moves me to tears, I stop and ask myself:  is it that good, or could I be depressed?

Last night, the memorial service in Tucson moved me to tears.  Twice.  And I’m not depressed.

The first time was during the opening prayer, when Dr. Carlos Gonzalez asked God to let us bless many people and things, including:

“the families of those that have lost their loved ones… the family of those that are healing…those people that are here today… those that are outside in greater Tucson, in Arizona and in our country… our fellow creatures. Those that stand. Those that blow in the wind. Those that are tall and stately. Those that crawl on the earth. Those that slither on the earth. Those that live under the earth…”

But it was this line, dropped in among the many, that, for some reason, hit me hard with emotion:

“Oh, Creator — if I may, my son is in Afghanistan. A little blessing to him, too.”

This really got me, the personal prayer, so meaningful to him — and so out of place among the other collective, communal blessings.

Many bloggers and talkers have questioned his rambling, non-Judeo-Christian prayer.  Brit Hume on Fox said it was “most peculiar.”

I found it quite moving and refreshing.

I was moved by Obama’s entire speech because he was so much The President.  Barack Obama inspired many millions of us to work quite hard to help him get elected, only to watch his opponents (many of whom did not lift a finger to canvass their neighborhoods for McCain-Palin in 2008) relentlessly whine about the election’s result and try to disqualify him for the office he rightfully holds.

Last night, Obama made things quite clear.  The entire speech was a much needed symphony of healing.

But with all the lyrical, powerful passages, including the plea to make America as good as 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green imagined it to be, it was this simple line that got me:

“And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and first responders who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt. We are grateful to them.”

Why, with so much poetry, did this simple statement punch my buttons?

I don’t know.  Experience creates memories that become mysteries of our experience; it’s not always possible to explain.

Obama’s gratitude reminded me of one of my favorite passages in literature, from Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. She asks what a martian might think if he came to Earth and happened to land at the entrance to the emergency room, seeing all the people rushing to help someone in need.

“‘Why,’ he’d say, ‘what a helpful planet, what kind and helpful creatures.’ He’d never guess we’re not always that way; that we had to, oh, put aside our natural selves to do it. ‘What a helpful race of beings,’ a Martian would say.  Don’t you think so?'”

I well remember listening to Reagan’s Oval Office address in 1986, after explosion of the The Challenger.  Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, was aboard.  I was a teacher then, at West Rowan Middle School, where I watched The Challenger and crew and teacher burst into flames along with roomful of children.

That night I watched Reagan’s address with my father.  Dad was a good, liberal Democrat who, without an ounce of animus, completely disagreed with Reagan’s conservative stand.  As was the custom back then, he respected the person and the office.

It seems to me that politics was not so much a competitive sport in those days, but a way of looking at the world.  An education in civics.  History in the making.  When Nixon resigned, before the days of VCRs, I remember my father and I setting up a reel-to-reel tape recorder and putting it in front of the TV so we could tape the audio.

My father tried to see humor in almost everything.

After Reagan’s Challenger speech, Dad said “You know, he would have been great during World War II.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt was his reference point for what a President could do and be.

These days, Obama gets criticized for “just giving speeches” with a “bunch of rhetoric.”

For my father, who quit Columbia University the day after Pearl Harbor in order to join the United States Air Force, that was a primary part of a President’s job:  giving speeches.  Displaying a mastery of rhetoric.  Using words to lead a nation.

I remember being in the car with my father one night in March of 1968 when he told me to stop talking and be quiet so we could listen to the President.  Lyndon Johnson was announcing that he would not seek reelection.  My mother was a journalist who reminded us that today’s news is tomorrow’s history.  These were moments which required our attention.

And yet, this morning, I saw friends on Facebook express their gratitude for the President’s speech, only to be answered by those who said he was chastising his liberal base.  One person wrote that it was just a crazy person in a grocery store — something that happens every day — and because a member of Congress was involved, Obama…

Such bull.

Obama could thank God for the sunshine and Fox News would say that he’s not a Christian because he’s worshipping the planets (I know, the sun is a star, not a planet; it doesn’t matter).

Arizona has been through a tough time with the politics of racial profiling.  Many of us in North Carolina lived with Jessee Helms for many years; we know how it feels.

And now this.

If ever a place hungered for a speech, it was Tucson last night.

And they got one.

This is just to say that Obama may have won reelection last night.  Not because he played a political move, but because it’s hard to beat an incumbent — and last night it was clear to both sides that he fully embodies the office he holds.

Other moments that transformed presidencies:

Bill Clinton’s Oklahoma City Speech

George W. Bush’s Bullhorn Speech

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address