Today as President and Michelle Obama paid homage to the victims who were killed in Newtown a year ago today, I'm thinking of the stories he holds in his heart. Here's Joshua DuBois' recounting of the President's time with families prior to the memorial service last year.
Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son… . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.Recently when he was interviewed by Chris Matthews, President Obama said that the most important characteristic of any effective president is the extent to which he stays connected to the people he is elected to serve. At times like this I imagine that connection breaks your heart.
And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss…We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer...
And the funny thing is—President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.
Jesus teaches us that some things—the holiest things, the most painful and important and cherished things—we are to do in secret. Not for public consumption and display, but as acts of service to others, and worship to God.
My hope is for support and healing to all the hearts that are broken today.