Man from Vermont gives perspective to Tucson’s memorial cheersby tcguestblogger on Jan. 13, 2011, under Uncategorized
By Nate Freeman
[Ed. Note: This guest blog post was sent unsolicited by Mr. Freeman. I thought it appropriate]
This morning there are grumblings about the atmosphere at the memorial service in Tuscon last night — specifically, grumblings about cheering which occurred when the President stepped up to the podium. There are also grumblings about the grumblings, as if a return of another round of finger pointing.
Let’s hope the subject of cheering has not become a political talking point.
As we take a step back from the shootings in Tucson last Saturday, in particular, after the President’s speech last night, it is better to remember what all of us should be looking for and working toward as a united nation and a united people. Last night the people of Tucson and the nation held a memorial service — a memorial service that celebrated the work and lives of those who were injured and lost on Saturday.
It makes sense that some television and Internet viewers might be confused by rousing cheers at last night’s memorial service. This doesn’t happen during times of grief under usual circumstances. But as we know, the events of last Saturday and the political strife since that time, have made this memorial service unique. In the wake of Saturday’s shooting tragedy, the political tension grew in unexpected ways.
This memorial service was different. This was, perhaps, the most uplifting memorial ceremony Americans have witnessed for a long, long time. We can’t compare the memorial service last night to presidential appearances following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Oklahoma City bombing or the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, when there was little to praise or even understand.
But not so last night in Tucson. The cheering that arose as the President stepped to the podium was indeed a surprise for those of us who cannot know the atmosphere and personal feelings in the Tucson community. We cannot know what it has been like to have suffered such a tragedy so close to home, in front of a store where many Tucsonians probably shop for groceries every week. We cannot know how the people of Tucson feel about their mayor or sheriff or the politics of their community. We cannot know who among those who cheered last night are Republicans or Democrats. We can’t even know if the people who waited in line for 10 hours or more even vote or care that much about politics.
Why, then, did they cheer when the President visited their community to pay respect for the dead and wounded from last Saturday’s shooting? We can’t know for certain if it was a cheer of political fervor, of a hometown pride in hosting the President, or of pure emotional relief following the terrible tragedy Tucson had just suffered.
Whatever feelings caused the people of Tucson to cheer, it is clear that the President did not come in the spirit of a political pep rally. Nor was that the case for any of those who read from scripture or stood before the podium to praise the courage of heroes.
None of the speakers smiled when the crowd lifted their voices in cheer. When the President stepped onto the stage, he did not allow the cheering to continue unnecessarily. He stood, acknowledging those in attendance with customary thank yous, and then, without fanfare, said, “Please, be seated.”
The President lowered the seeming jubilant tone in the auditorium with a tenor of sober tribute when he said in opening words, “There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole in torn in your hearts.” During pauses in both speech and applause, the sound of a baby crying could be heard in the quieted stadium.
But the cheering continued along with applause throughout the President’s speech. Certainly, some of the clapping, whistles and jubilation in Tucson last night was appropriate and could not be suppressed.
Who could not cheer with relief and joy when the President said:
I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak. And I want to tell you — her husband Mark is here and he allows me to share this with you — right after we went to visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues in Congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. (Applause.) Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. (Applause.)
This was news that rose up a cheer that crossed America’s political divisions. This was a cheer of relief that some small light of hope might emerge from one of America’s darkest moments. This was the kind of cheer we feel in our hearts when the movie is ending and the good guys have just saved the day.
Those who were cheering in Tucson had already heard about the good guys who helped save the day. Before the President came to the stage, Daniel Hernandez, an intern serving for Gabrielle Giffords — putting aside the praise he received for his role in saving the Senator — gave praise to “the first responders and people like Dr. Reed who have done an amazing job at making sure that Gabby is OK and that those who are injured are being treated to the best of our ability.”
When the people of Tucson heard Hernandez speak, and later heard the President’s words, “Gabby opened her eyes,” they cheered in voice the way many Americans, at the same time, were cheering in heart.
They cheered when the President praised those who helped save the day.
We are grateful to Daniel Hernandez — (applause) — a volunteer in Gabby’s office. (Applause.) And, Daniel, I’m sorry, you may deny it, but we’ve decided you are a hero because — (applause) — you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss, and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive. (Applause.) We are grateful to the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. (Applause.) Right over there. (Applause.) We are grateful for petite Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer’s ammunition, and undoubtedly saved some lives. (Applause.) And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and first responders who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt. We are grateful to them. (Applause.)
The people of Tucson cheered when the President said,
We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future. (Applause.) But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. (Applause.) That we cannot do. (Applause.) That we cannot do.
And the people of Tucson and the people in my home cheered loudest when the President talked about 9 year-old Christina Taylor Green.
I want to live up to her expectations. (Applause.) I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. (Applause.) All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations. (Applause.)
Yes, there was cheering last night. With hearts unsuppressed, the people of Tucson cheered at the memorial service for those who had died. They cheered for all Americans who are proud of our country and who believe in the goodness of the human heart. They cheered in the same way that we can imagine those who have died would want us to praise them and to honor their lives.
So let us give praise to Tucson today. Let us give praise to ourselves as members of the American family, for the suffering we have overcome and the faith we have in ourselves for the work we have to do. Cheer on, people of Tucson and let us all raise voice in the joy of redemption.