Last night Pretty and I watched and listened to President Barack Obama as he delivered his final address to the nation, and I confess we both shed tears during the speech. I feel a deep sense of personal loss today – like I have lost a member of my family because the Obama family has, indeed, made me feel welcome to be a part of their lives in the White House for the past eight years. That’s a long time.
Webster’s Thesaurus describes the word eloquent as follows: “persuasive, forceful, striking, stirring, moving, spirited, emphatic, articulate, passionate, impassioned, vivid, poetic.” Pause and let that sink in.
The President’s final address in Chicago was as eloquent as his first speech there eight years ago and remarkably reminiscent of the first one in his themes of hope and confidence for future generations of Americans. That hope and confidence is a true leap of faith at the end of two terms of the most contentious, bitter years of partisanship in our political process as I’ve witnessed in my seventy years as a citizen.
His belief in the necessity of compromise and cooperation to accomplish his goals of peace and prosperity for the American people and our allies has been both his strength and unbelievably, also his weakness. His legacy will be debated by historians for the next hundred years, but his successes and failures are already in the books.
Obama…statesman…humanitarian…peacemaker… orator…father…husband…sports fan…a person of integrity with a good sense of humor…decent human being. These are my impressions of the man I’ve grown to know and love.
But the most indelible impressions I have of Barack Obama are in his role as the compassionate comforter to a nation plagued by multiple shootings sprinkled throughout his presidency. Binghamton, New York. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Fort Hood two times. Washington Navy Yard. Oak, Wisconsin. Chattanooga, Tennessee. San Bernadino, California. Jewish synagogue in Kansas City. Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Oregon community college. Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012.
Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 18, 2015.
“Michelle and I know several members of Emanuel AME Church. We knew their pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight others, gathered in prayer and fellowship and was murdered last night. And to say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel. Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.” (June 18, 2015)
All in all, there were 15 multiple shootings during President Obama’s two terms, and I turned to him for some degree of reasoning and yes, comfort, in the aftermath of those horrific acts. Each time, he carried the weight of our collective grief and sorrow on his shoulders and somehow brought a compassionate comfort to our troubled republic.
Almost exactly a year after the Mother Emanuel tragedy in my home state, another terrorist attack or hate crime or whatever you want to call it took place at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in our country’s history and the largest attack launched since 09-11, 2001.
There were 49 people killed and 53 wounded.
“Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder — a horrific massacre — of dozens of innocent people. We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city…
This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub — it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.
So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans…
Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.
As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts — friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.
May God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May He comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love. Thank you.”
I will miss this President Obama whose accomplishments at the international and national levels were many including a Nobel Peace Prize but whose presidency for me was essentially a personal one.
For some reason his exit triggers a memory of my father’s last words to me as he was being rolled away on a hospital bed to a surgery that would change our family’s lives forever: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from which cometh my help…
I will leave it there.