I’ll remember the scene for as long as I live, as it was so gratifying to look upon all those citizens of my birthplace, Tucsonans, gathered together to memorialize a horrific tragedy, filling the screen on my TV in HD, showing the loving side of Arizona for all the world to see. In living color.
I began watching the services with my head tilted downward, mourning style, and the next thing I knew I was sitting upright in my easy chair, not knowing why at first, but then it dawned on me: I was hearing sounds like those one might hear at a Wildcat basketball game. That was a new experience for me as far as memorial services go. But I got into it right away. Who am I to tell 26,000 people how to grieve?
The more I think about it that’s probably what our country needs right now, some cheering and whistling just to lift ourselves above the depressing negative vibes that literally tear at the fabric of our being.
After a while I felt like cheering and whistling as I watched my hometown folks stand tall in a spirit of love and togetherness.
Oh, what a sight. There was Robert Shelton, a man I respect highly, a president of a university that seems to become more forward looking by the day, acting as emcee, saying to those in attendance that they were invited “to try, in a small way, to bring comfort to those whose lives have been forever changed by an act so heinous.” That clued me in that this would be a hopeful evening fueled by love.
The diversity, alone, inspired hope with Carlos Gonzales, a Native American professor, kicking off the night with a prayer calling to mind what’s been sacred to our nation’s first inhabitants for a long long time, delivering such ancient thoughts in front of people who were mourning most likely like they never had before: families and friends and regular citizens who were affected intimately by the tragedy; heroes who stepped in to ease and dampen the misery, featuring one Daniel Hernandez, in particular, a gay Latino, who said ever so eloquently, denying his heroism, “On Saturday we all became Tucsonans, we all became Arizonans, we all became AMERICANS!”; the governor of the state and others representing the state and politicos serving constituents in the U.S. Senate and Congress and cities and counties; esteemed senior citizens, Anthony Kennedy, an active Justice of the Supreme Court and Sandra Day O’Connor, a retired Justice, with hair so white it stood out in the crowd; Eric Holder, the nation’s first black Attorney General and former Arizona Governor, Janet Napolitano, the nation’s first woman Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Then there was Barack Obama, the first black United States President, standing at a podium at my university, in my town, in my state, addressing my people, in my lifetime – a dream I could not have perceived or conceived just a few years ago. And all that he had to say made me glow, starting with his letting the world know that a beloved Jewish woman, Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, who had been shot while meeting with the people she represented in D.C., had “opened her eyes for the very first time.” Could there be a greater symbol of hope?
But what was most hopeful for me was the president speaking in behalf of the children, something I have wanted from him from the moment he stepped into the White House.
I felt like I could levitate when he described Christina Taylor Green as the special human being she was: a student, a dancer, a swimmer, a gymnast, a budding politician who “showed an appreciation of life uncommon for a girl her age.”
It filled my heart and soul with more hope than I’ve felt in a while when he said “Imagine for a moment, here was a young girl who is just becoming aware of our democracy, just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship, just starting to get the fact that she plays some part in shaping her nation’s future.”
But this was the kicker for me: “I want to live up to her expectations. I want democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined us. All of us, we should do everything we can do to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”
In Green “we see all of our children – so curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic, so deserving of love and so deserving of our good example,” the president said as Michelle held tears in her eyes. And she was not alone as my eyes watered like the Mississippi heading to the open sea. I have waited all my life for somebody in such a high position to say precisely those very words.
“Our task,” Obama went on to say, “is working together to consistently widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations. They believe, and I believe, that we can do better.”
Lordy be, how can that not be so plain for grownups to see? Thank you, Mr. President. Now, let me help you with your jump shot.
That the president delivered this message in my hometown with my history both good and bad and indifferent in that very town, has taken me to some level of my humanity I had never visited before, letting me know, even in the sadness of what’s happened, that Christina Taylor Green has not died in vain. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned my efforts in keeping her spirit alive. I just hope other citizens of the world will commit themselves to the same goal as there could be nothing more vital to the well being of the world than making it a better place for our children to grow.