In the first thirty seconds of his taking the stage and thanking the stewards of the event, he directly equalizes himself with those who have suffered huge, almost unimaginable personal loss. He’s speaking directly to them, asking them to voluntarily do something that occurs to them almost certainly unintentionally all the time: to recover that memory of loss.
Folks, events like this are hard. They’re hard for all of you, because it brings back the very moment that everything happened, no matter how many years pass, no matter how many years go by. And it brings it back.
Biden says this within fifteen seconds of the start of his speech. Within the span of one minute of his speech, he lands at this tender spot of recollection. He brings those people to that spot just like that, and effortlessly. He accomplishes this simply by acknowledging where they are.
But see that he tells them to retrieve that memory.
To all of you here tonight, it’s under different circumstances, but I know a little bit what the loss feels like. It’ll be an anniversary on the 18th of this month that I lost my wife and daughter and nearly lost my two sons when a tractor trailer broadsided them. And it’s not long after that, the anniversary of losing my son. I know that feeling.
Everyone is different, but I know that feeling. You know, it’s like a black hole in the middle of your chest you’re being dragged into. And you never know if there’s ever a way out.
What is he doing here, rhetorically?
I really had to sit back and consider this for a moment. Obviously, he’s the President; he’s performing ceremonial duties. Boilerplate on the surface: something that can be discharged as a matter of duty.
But he’s not doing that.
And what I admire so much about all of you is you show up and remember, because remembering brings it back — the very moment that it happened.
Again, he’s insisting that these audience members, the ones who suffered such immediate and unexpected loss as comes with gun violence: he’s telling them to hold that thought in mind. And I thought about other leaders who might be considered destructive charismatics, the ones who stir strife in order to find followers. It’s so easy to make that personal connection with those who hold grudges or other wounds yet to heal, and then exploit that to turn people vengeful and then to use that excitement to drive whatever cause.
But see what Biden is doing. Yes, he touts his policy achievements and advances what he sees as his vision for the future, but then he does more.
Scripture says, “The light shines in darkness, and darkness has not overcome it.”
To all of you here tonight, you are the light. You are literally the light. And your loved ones, your friends, they’re the light. And they’ll always be with you, no matter what happens. They’re always with you.
How many of you ask yourself, “What would my son or daughter want me to do at this moment” They’re in your heart. They’re part of you. They’re always going to be with you.
That’s when I realized: Biden is a healer.
He’s healing those people. He’s providing a balm. He told them to bring that memory of loss out, to examine it in its fullness, and then he lacquered over that like the nacre of a pearl. Because the more a person can do that, that rock—that forever irritant that is always kept inside where the tender parts are—the more one can attend to it, the smoother it can become.
Now look. I’m not a religious person. I identify as agnostic (though I find the interpretation of religion fascinating). But the event was held in a church, one that reflects his faith, and certainly those who were gathered there felt a symmetry between Biden’s words and their surroundings.
He’s not a miracle worker. We as a nation are at a crossroads right now, and it’s not immediately clear how the future will open up. Vista’s obscure. Rabblerousers proliferate their invective, and normal people of five years ago now have been fractionated toward this newer, sour position of exclusion and, yes, violence. We may encounter precipices yet.
But we are supremely lucky.
Biden is understated.
I didn’t know that was a power.