From President Obama's speech last night:
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.
I have been reading comments in the press and blogosphere this morning about the president's speech, and have come to a new resolve: I am not going to read comments on political stories anymore. In truth, I have thought this in the past, but always drift back for one more look, like touching wet paint to see just how wet it is. But no more. I know that there are women and men of bright goodness in this country, millions of them, and I don't want my ability to see that light obscured anymore by the smoke of burning hostilities.
It's pretty easy for me to feel, not unamerican exactly, but not-very-American. I lived overseas from the ages of ten to sixteen. These are very formative years, and I had a lot of trouble adjusting to being Stateside again for the start of my senior year in high school. Some of my sense of being a foreigner here never quite fell away. That is probably why I feel comfortable living in a big east-coast city even though I love the wilderness.
I look at newspapers from Britain, Canada, and France fairly regularly, to stay aware of the different perspective that was the only one I had in those years away. This country looks different from a distance, scarier to be sure, but also – often – more wondrous strange and beautiful.
I think what President Obama was able to do in his speech yesterday was to give us a different perspective, to show us to ourselves from a different distance, from a place where the divisions between us melt into insignificance. Where all one sees is that which binds us. Grief. Joy. Loss. Love. And a dream: a vision of how much better we can be than the often-pretty-fine-once-you-get-the-smoke-out-of-the-way that we are.
There were several scripture readings at the memorial yesterday, and the president referenced a few more. Had I a hand in the planning of the event, this is a reading I would have chosen:
One Body with Many Members
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (1 Corinthians 12:14-26, NRSV)
"Our hearts are broken," President Obama said last night. "And yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness."
I pray to remember to see from that fullness. To be in that fullness. And to carry that fullness out into the world every day.
God bless America.