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Finding the words
Dec 19, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck
President Obama's Newtown speech
In trying times, the President of the United States can find himself shouldering the duty of speaking to a troubled nation. Sometimes that job is to explain, sometimes to counsel, sometimes to reason, to reassure and comfort, to call to action.
Faced with circumstances in which many might conclude "there are no words" adequate to the task at hand, the president often must be the one to find them, or at least try.
On Sunday night, President Barack Obama was the man with that duty as he spoke on the stage of a high school auditorium in Newtown, Conn., the town staggered by the killing of 26 people two days earlier, include 20 first-grade children at an elementary school.
Here, in part, is what the president said:
"We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America ...
"As a community, you've inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you've looked out for each other, and you've cared for one another, and you've loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered.
"And with time, and God's grace, that love will see you through. ...
"But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions...
"Our first task (is) caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged.
"And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations?
"Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm?
"Can we claim, as a nation, that we're all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return?
"Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
"I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We're not doing enough. And we will have to change....
"Since I've been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting ... And in between, there has been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America, victims whose, much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. ...
"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
"But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this.
"If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try. ...
"Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine.
"Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?
"Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom? ...
"'Let the little children come to me,' Jesus said, 'and do not hinder them -- for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'
"Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.
"God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory."
The president found the words.
Whether you heard them via radio, watched the president speak them on national television Sunday night, or are reading them here for the first time, those words were, and are, powerful.
Each of us will hear and react to those words a bit differently. There will be time for arguing and haggling soon enough. As a nation we may or may not be able to find a meaningful course of action that will lessen the likelihood, frequency and severity of these violent events.
But for now, we have the words. They are a beginning.