I tuned into the speech last night on MSNBC (Why wasn’t any of the major networks playing it? Instead, there was The Big Bang Theory on CBS) and saw a might-be-drunk speaker apparently representing the Native American community of Tucson. Watching that was unbearable so my roommates and I switched back and forth between that and Comedy Central – there was a Dave Chappelle rerun featuring a "What Men Want" skit, a parody of that Mel Gibson movie with Helen Hunt. Next up, Daniel Hernandez. Though he is certainly a hero and I greatly admire his courage, his pronouncement of humility (thrice) made me wince. Stop trying so hard to convince us that you are humble and maybe we’d believe it, I thought. Then Jan Brewer came on, and it was like Elmer Fudd hunting for wabbits; Roommate 1 and 2 imitated her lispy speech, which, I think, improved it. Putting aside her hateful politics, how she could get elected governor with those poor public speaking skills is beyond me. When Obama finally stepped up to the podium, all the other speakers had collectively whetted my cynicism for this entire event.
Fortunately, he did not succumb to any political rhetoric or theater. Listening to his speech, the sadness I felt returned. It was present on Saturday afternoon when I first heard the news and it has resided heavily in my heart for the past few days, but I really could not process the horror because it was just too terrible. Saturday showed me that it was actually possible for a human being to think it was ok to open fire upon a crowd of people, to go to an event with the intention of taking a person’s life – and this numbed me. The media and politicians' finger-pointing certainly didn’t help. It only proved that as a group of self-governing individuals, we can condemn our hateful political conversation while also ape indignation on live TV for some fleeting relevancy. Or ratings. I don’t know.
So I wrapped my sadness in my annoyance, and while reading the stories of the various heroic individuals who lent a hand at the shooting, I picked apart the media’s motives for showing that clip or running that story. Christina Taylor Green’s parents appeared in an interview on Sunday, and I wondered how they could even sit there and calmly answer the reporter’s questions. I marveled at their strength, but also, in the back of my mind, wondered how this unexpected attention might affect them. Perhaps they could get a reality show on how they cope with their loss. I disgust myself for having thought that and you may be too, but you know this screwed-up idea is not completely out of our screwed-up reach.
Obama’s speech was a wake-up call. It jolted me back to the despair that I’ve been ignoring. But borne out of it was also hope.
You know, so many pundits/politicians have said some variations of this: "Despite the tragedy of the event, we still feel hope." I didn’t get it at first because I lost hope on Saturday afternoon, and then lost it again in the media shitstorm. "Hope" was facing some serious extinction with Palin’s stupid fucking video yesterday. Even last night, when Obama said, "Our hearts are broken - and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness," I could feel my stubbornness rearing up. There was no "fullness" in my heart, only heaviness.
But by the end of the speech, I felt pride. Pride for my president, pride for the people cheering maniacally during inappropriate times and pride that we can come together to mourn for people we do not know. Collectively, as a nation, we can still be good. Isn’t that an incredibly notion to stumble upon, like it’s somehow news? Obama hit a home run last night in more than a political sense: He restored my faith and hope in Americans.
"The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud."
(The full transcript can be found here.)
(I’m avoiding all TV news coverage for the next few days because I don’t want them to ruin this feeling.)