The shots rang out on a beautiful morning a while back in the D.C. area, shots that were meant to kill congressmen. Injury and death followed the ringing of the shots, the cries of pain and the struggle to get out of plain sight.
Is it possible that any one of us felt anything but sorrow and shame for our society? Anyone, that is, save the shooter and a handful of like-minded, home-grown terrorists whom we as yet do not know but who will, one day, come forward as terrorists do.
How do we come to understand such acts? One way is to take the time to look into a mirror and see if, on any level, we feed such anger with our rhetoric or slogan or campaigns.
At the same time, would it be possible to learn of Sen. John McCain’s diagnosis of brain cancer and not feel a real pain in the heart? I have lost a dear friend to this particular disease. Others have, too, and so we know that it is likely that McCain was speaking from his heart in the Senate chamber with the clock ticking loudly for him.
His speech last week to the august chamber was a cri de coeur, a cry from the heart, that the Congress find itself — both sides of the aisle. He sees how dysfunctional the chamber and, indeed, the Executive Branch, has become. And in this precious time, he returns to give a full measure of energy and guidance. He does not hide from either the disease or his duties.
How many can say that? And for how long might he be able to serve as the conscience of Washington?
Must we have shots fired and a man standing while cancer threatens him to call upon our leaders to be their better selves?
We rally, for a few brief days or moments, when the shots are fired or when announcements of mortality knocking on someone’s door are made. We rally.
They rally — and then back into closed-door meetings each side goes, with the struggle, honor and sacrifice forgotten.
We rally around our dinner tables, in our churches, mosques and synagogues to offer prayers for the injured, the fallen, the suffering. And then we put on our slogan T-shirts decrying someone else’s rights or points of view.
We rally our children to be honorable, truth-telling, clean-thinking and upright. But we allow public discourse in our highest offices to include lies, name-calling and the emotional fires of the kind that stoked the shots fired.
We rally and turn away so quickly as if we, the people, are not reflecting that which we claim to find abhorrent, as if our words, T-shirt slogans and caps do not really mean anything to someone who is not us.
John McCain is speaking about returning the Senate to an upright, consultative body that chooses to solve problems. He is talking about finding the spirit that says, “We will not fully agree, but we can find a way forward for the protection, safety, health and endurance of all the people of this country.”
What he is not asking for is perfection, not asking for one side to consider only itself the one true way, thereby excluding what we know is true about this country: We have many faiths, points of view, desires, colors, orientations, careers and educational levels. And it is this thick soup of humanity that the Legislative Branch must represent. It is not for them to convert the nation to one party, faith or way of life.
McCain is talking to all of us when he says:
“What have we to lose by trying to work together to find solutions? … Merely preventing your political opponent from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work. There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles, agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.”
These are words that we can rally around — not ascribing ill intent to every difference in thought, faith or orientation, but remembering that there are living, breathing people on all sides.
Respect, listening and compromise are called for now. If we continue to argue and only wish to have a crushing “win,” only animus can come from the others who do not feel they have any part in the process.
Rally around the feeling of wishing to be e pluribus unum. Out of many, one.