The evening of January 12th, President Obama stood before the families and friends of the slain and wounded citizens. He spoke earnestly and deeply to them in their grief. Summoned to assuage profound sorrow, to rationalize the irrational, and perhaps -- above all -- to reunite a nation deeply at odds, he chose to address the American people on themes that seldom enter political discourse. He spoke about the need for humility, for kindness, and for genuine human compassion.
With the oratorial flourish and sincerity that have become his trademarks, Obama reasoned that the sudden loss of loved ones in such a tragic, violent manner both "causes us to look backward [and] forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships . . ." At times of deep loss, he reflected, we are brought face-to-face with our own mortality, the brevity of our human lives, and the fact that ultimately, ". . . 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."
As we open the pages of today's newspapers or watch the home pages of world news sites come into focus on our computers, we are bathed in images of violent reprisal to acts of nonviolent resistance. From Bahrain to Iran, Jordan to Yemen, from Iraq to the sandy soil of Egypt -- and all the places where the struggle of ordinary people to gain a legitimate voice in the laws and policies that so deeply influence the degree of their personal freedom and well-being -- we are told of aggression, of force, of some response other than that motivated by genuine human compassion. Into these spaces, I'd like to speak Obama's question: Rooted in the sanctuary of my own free and fortunate life, what small part can I play in improving the lives of others?
Long live and celebrate those brave enough to join the nonviolent movement for freedom, for voice, for greater well-being for all citizens.
* * * * *
For the full text of President Obama's remarks on January 12th in Tucson, click here.