Friday, January 14, 2011

Afterimages of a Healing Moment

Michelle Obama sat silently, a First Lady holding hands with an astronaut, two middle-aged people in the grip of grief and hope, as the President made his speech.

Now she adds words of her own in an open letter to parents, citing "questions my daughters have asked...the same ones that many of your children will have" and urging them to talk about the goodness of the victims, especially nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, of whom the President said, "She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important."

A tough-minded blogger takes exception to the President's image from a book about babies born on 9/11--"If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today"--but can't stop thinking about it until he decides it's "appropriate to a memorial for a child" after all.

The lasting afterglow from the President's speech recalls the mood after John F. Kennedy's assassination, when a psychiatrist wrote that for weeks his patients stopped talking about their personal problems to pour out their feelings about the loss of someone they knew only from images on a TV screen.

In days and weeks to come, in this short-attention world, Tuscon will likely recede under the flood of 24/7 blather, but at least one Pulitzer-Prize political historian, Garry Wills, sees a more lasting effect, comparing Obama to Lincoln after visiting the wounded:

"Their message to him was one of dedication: 'They believed, and I believe, that we can be better.' This rang a bell with me. It reminded me of the lesson of the fallen that Lincoln took from Gettysburg—“that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” At Gettysburg Lincoln might have been expected to defend the North and blame the South...Rather, the bulk of his speech was given to praising the dead and urging others to learn from them."

Such comparisons can be dismissed as grandiosity but, as someone who has lived through a lot, I can testify that history has it own way of choosing moments that matter and lodging them in the American mind.


Fuzzy Slippers said...

Your final paragraph is so true. There are only a scarce few events that people remember in vivid terms. JFK was assassinated a few years before I was born, but I remember learning about that day in school and coming home to ask my mom if she could remember it (like all children, I thought her ancient--and she was then younger than I am now). She teared up a little as she recanted exactly where she had been and what she had thought. For me, 9/11 has a similar resonance. I'll never forget that day and all that it meant to me and to so many Americans. Nor will I forget President Bush's strength and unflinching resolve, illustrated to my mind most clearly by his standing atop the rubble of Ground Zero with that megaphone.

I'm not sure this horrible tragedy will have that lasting impact, but as you note, it's very difficult to predict what will stick in people's minds over time. I'm just glad that he was able to speak to us all as Americans first because that is really what is most important . . . and the primary theme of the majority of presidential speeches that endure.

Yellow Dog Don said...

Thank you for the articles and blogger referenced in your post. I learned a few things today among them being the words "narrishkeit" and "proleptic".
Both of the words were used, I think, appropriately.