April 26, 2013

By Tom Ehrich

By chance, President Obama has become our national “Mourner in Chief,” and we seem to be grateful for it.

After years of his predecessor’s cold diffidence in the face of tragedy, it is helpful to see the President and First Lady wiping tears from their eyes in West, TX, while mourning firefighters killed in a plant explosion.

Just a week before, he stood in Boston and joined its mourning after two bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon.

Before that it was Newtown, CT, and coastal towns battered by Hurricane Sandy.

Whereas some called for vengeance — let’s declare war on someone to make the pain go away! — the President seems to have figured out the better, more mature first response is to mourn with those who mourn.

Action, including crime-solving, investigations and possibly retaliation, usually can come later. But the pain of tragedy requires grieving, not revenge.

Yes, anger is a stage in grieving. But great damage is done when we get stuck in anger. Besides, actions taken in anger are rarely wise and effective. Anger is usually a cover for the fear that arises when events, storms and people go haywire. We need to deal with the fear before we act.

Thus, Bostonians responded immediately to the bombings by declaring, in effect, we won’t live in fear. In what sounded more like determination than macho bluster, the city’s temporary motto became, “Boston Strong.”

Perhaps the cruelest response after Newtown was that of the National Rifle Association, whose message echoed the mobster in “Oceans 11,” “Be afraid, be very afraid — now go buy some guns.”

Our complex, diverse and often troubled nation has no shortage of angry avengers. We need more who take the time and compassion to grieve. When we have grieved, our words have content and our actions flow from reason, not reaction.