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“Rain puddles in heaven”

When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, Ronald Reagan gave a now-famous speech to comfort a shaken country. “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,” Reagan said.

Tonight President Obama delivered a similarly comforting speech, with civility and maturity befitting the occasion—no small thing amid the noisy crowd in Tucson and the clanging machine of today’s political media.

Speaking at a raucous-sounding service at the University of Arizona (was it miked weird for TV?), Obama memorialized the victims of Saturday’s shooting spree. He gave a speech fit for a national leader in a time of crisis.

It’s time to forget whatever Sarah Palin said this morning. But before we do, here’s a notable comparison between today’s two speeches about the Arizona tragedy: Barack Obama used the word “love” 8 times in his speech. Sarah Palin didn’t use the word once in hers.

“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,” Obama said.

The full text of Obama’s speech is available here.

Obama began with a tribute to the victims, telling comforting stories about each, including announcing with a bit of a flair that Rep. Gabriella Giffords opened her eyes for the first time today. He diverged in the middle of the speech to talk about the state of political discourse in the U.S. today. He said, in a somewhat rambling way, “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.”

As a work of writing, I want to focus on 4 paragraphs toward the end, in which Obama talks about Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old killed in the shooting.

“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.”

Obama’s words in Tucson contained no second meanings, no code to be telegraphed to political friends. They express the empathy of a parent. They could only be spoken by an adult in charge rising to the occasion to comfort other adults in shared grief. Here was no politician, only a statesman.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under News & Journalism, Politics

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