Sometimes silence is the action that speaks louder than words.
Addressing the nation this afternoon in the wake of the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Obama was somber but matter-of-fact as he opened his statement, saying he reacted to the news that possibly 30 people, including as many as 20 children, had been killed, "not as a president, but as anybody else would, as a parent."
As he continued his remarks, that became very clear. Acknowledging that "the majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," his tone, and then words themselves, suddenly failed him and he stood, lips clenched, moments ticking by in the ever-increasing sound of camera shutters, silently straining to collect himself.
He continued, of course, though more than once his hands moved to brush away tears, presumably before they could fall, and he never quite regained his initial composure. He said all the things a president should, and must, say in times of such tragedy, spoke of hugging his own daughters tighter and keeping the lost and the surviving in his prayers. But it was in those few endless seconds of silence that he reached the nation, as we sat in front of our television sets, many of us with Christmas trees and menorahs in plain view, horrified and sickened, wanting to turn the television off and keep the sorrow at bay, confined to a small chilly state miles away, and knowing that we can't. That instead we must now sit vigil, in that same choking silence of a president struggling to do what must be one of the worst parts of his job, to appear calm in the face of evil and madness, resolute in a moment of utter powerlessness. We watch as the news comes in, bit by heartbreaking, enraging, despair-provoking bit because it is our duty, as Americans and grown-ups and human beings, to bear witness to the terrible crimes we commit against our children, against each other.