Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ordinary Goodness

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

As I listened last night to the memorial service for those killed in Tucson last Saturday, I was comforted. Obviously, those most in need of comfort are those who lost loved ones. But in a larger sense, we are all in mourning.

We have all lost something.

But as I listened to the service, and particularly as I listened to the President’s speech, I was comforted and lifted up by the amazing grace of ordinary goodness. As he said, "our hearts are broken." But when we reflect on the goodness we have seen, we also know that "our hearts have reason for fullness."

At the center of it all is the congresswoman who was the target of the gunman. Gabrielle Giffords continues to make progress and there was a loud ovation when the President announced that just hours before the service she had opened her eyes for the first time.

The victims were relatively anonymous until the shooting. And as we remember them, we are reminded that ordinary goodness lives all around us. John Roll, the Federal Judge, was known for his honesty and faithfulness. Dorwan Stoddard died while shielding his wife. Dorothy Morris died in spite of her husband’s desperate attempt to cover her with is body. Phyllis Schneck was a devoted grandmother and church volunteer. Gabe Zimmerman was a dedicated public servant. And Christina Taylor Green was everything we hope for in our children.

At the end of his address, President Obama focused on Christina, who was born on another tragic day, September 11, 2001. She was one of the “Children of Hope” featured in a book that pictured one child from each state, born on 9/11.

He noted that after a personal tragedy we take time to reflect on those whom we have lost and he reminded us that we are all part of one family:

"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 then he spoke of Christina. In her, he said, “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.”

“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.”

The ordinary, but amazing, goodness of those who died challenges us to live better lives. We can do better.

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