The presidential speech in the aftermath of tragedy is an all-too-familiar event; President Obama gave one for the ages last night to the parents and community of Newtown, Conn., and to a grieving nation beyond.
This tragedy clearly touched the president deeply, as it did so many other Americans. The president took whatever words he got from his speechwriters and weaved his own sermon: an ode to sacrifice, a searing definition of parenthood and a political call to action.
The combination was equal to the impossible task he faced: He offered comfort and hope. He also helped us to cry, and that is always the first step back from such pain.
President Obama started with Scripture: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands,” but he didn't end there.
He brought us back to Friday and put us in the classrooms of Sandy Hook Elementary School, telling us about the bravery and sacrifice of the teachers: “And then,” the president said, “there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, ‘I know karate, so it's okay; I'll lead the way out.’ ”
He gave what is surely one of the most poignant descriptions of the profound nature of parenthood when he said, “There's only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child¹s embrace, that is true. . . . We know we're always doing right when we're taking care of them, when we're teaching them well, when we're showing acts of kindness. We don't go wrong when we do that.”
Finally, the president called on the nation to act, to do something about gun violence. He spoke not only as someone who knows the divisive politics of the matter but as one who doesn’t believe that gun laws will somehow alter the twisted motives of mentally ill people who commit mass murder.
The debate, however, is no longer about motive; it is about making the means and opportunity for violence less available. The president struck the most dangerous argument for those who oppose all controls on guns. Just because tighter enforcement and stronger laws won't solve everything is no longer an excuse for nothing.
I am writing this just minutes after dropping off our fourth-grader at a school in a peaceful, exurban community not unlike Newtown. People here love their children and also love their guns. As Hayden and I said our goodbyes and that we loved each other, and she disappeared into the thick mist of a morning just days before the winter solstice, I hoped we love our children more.