Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: President Obama is going to Arizona in the wake of the weekend’s tragic shooting at a congressional rally.
Dear Mr. President,
I hope your visit to Arizona goes well today. A lot of people envy presidents for their power and prestige, but I’m not among them. I’ve seen how tough trips like this can be on even the strongest soul.
The public at large, of course, is eager to hear what you will have to say, but on the many occasions when I have met with folks closely affected by tragedies I have often found that it is how you listen when you are alone with them that matters most. Sometimes they want to talk about what happened. Sometimes they want to tell you about the people who were lost. Sometimes they want to talk about something that seemingly has nothing to do with the events at hand - a favorite pet, a good restaurant, some place they went on vacation years ago.
But listening to it all matters.
Imagine what it would have meant to you some years ago if a family member were caught in a national calamity to have the president simply sit with you for a moment, to hold your hand on behalf of the nation, and be a living, breathing symbol of all the people in our land who share your grief.
There are only rare occasions in civilian life that command this particular fulfillment of duty from a president, and personally I don’t think that any of you ever really get used to it. But remember, as foreign as it may feel, it is even more so for the poor families who have lost someone. Just days ago they were doing their jobs, sharing family dinners, going for walks and not imagining the life-changing events that would come to their door - never imagining either that you would come calling with words of sympathy and a nation’s sadness.
Yet that is happening. I would not be surprised if some of them want to talk. And for all the pressing business that attends each president all the time, on this day I suspect there is nothing more important than for you to listen.
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