W.C. Green is from good Republican stock--her grandmother used to render them down for soup. Since she can't grow up to be Cato the Elder, she takes out her disappointment on modern orators
"Comfort those who sit in darkness...."
September 30th, 2002
"The various dignitaries who will gather at Ground Zero on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11 have been asked not to unleash any original oratory for the occasion" - Harold Huber: "Gettysburg and Ground Zero ," Wall Street Journal, 9 Sept, 2002, editorial page.
Rhetorix is grateful to the organizers of this event because horrific occasions often inspire horrible prose. Here is an example from a corporate memo about a 9/11 commemorative meal:
As a nation founded on a strong belief of "In God We Trust", love thy neighbor, hard work, hope for a better day, and a strong family structure, we were shaken and for some knocked to our knees, but as a nation we yet stand! For the act of hated [sic] cannot and will not destroy the fundament of what is indestructible. . .
So, in the memory of those lives sacrificed for our continued stance, we would like to honor their engraved heroism with an act of sharing and breaking bread.
This memo is sincere in its awkwardness as the writer conveys the gravity of the occasion. It is a shame that people nowadays rarely practice the clear expression of such a message.
Our society hinders such practice by eschewing the painful. We don't write condolence letters; we send pre-printed "sympathy" cards. Our ministers don't preach about death and its sting (or lack thereof); they tell us how God/Goddess loves us just the wonderful way that we are. We don't enjoy the great tragedies with their well-written heroic suffering; we watch shallow people and silly stunts. When the one with the most silicone or steroids fails to win, that's tragic.
Is it any wonder that most people only stammer when confronted with real grieving and pain? This stammer becomes worse when we try to respond in a glorious and grandiose formality, something we also have little chance to practice. Forensics clubs and speech classes no longer are common in schools and homework assignments omit memorization of famous speeches in favor of modern short literature (so easy to read during commercial breaks.)
How, then, should we properly address grief? For a grand state occasion, don't look to TV for guidance. Try instead ancient Greek history and the Funeral Oration of Pericles as recorded by Thucydides. Where to find the right words for a person who grieves? Oddly enough, in that same speech.
In 431 B.C., after the first year of the Peloponnesian Way, the Athenians gathered to bury those who had died in battle. An empty bier was set among their remains to honor those whose bodies were not recovered. Pericles, leader of the Athenians, was chosen to give the customary funeral oration. His speech praised Athens, her founders, her culture and history, her ideals and goals--not as balm for the hurts of those mourning listeners, but to assure them that the dead had died for something worthy of their lives.
To a people in crisis, the message is "We will survive and succeed. We must do our best, striving to be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf by those who gave their all for us."
"Make them your examples," Pericles told his audience, "and, esteeming courage to be freedom and freedom to be happiness, do not weigh too nicely the perils of war. The unfortunate who has no hope of a change for the better has less reason to throw away his life than the prosperous who, if he survive, is always liable to a change for the worse, and to whom any accidental fall makes the most serious difference. To a man of spirit, cowardice and disaster coming together are far more bitter than death striking him unperceived at a time when he is full of courage and animated by the general hope."
Then he said," Still I know that this is a hard saying, especially when those are in question of whom you will constantly be reminded by seeing in the homes of others blessings of which once you also boasted: for grief is felt not so much for the want of what we have never known, as for the loss of that to which we have been long accustomed."
These same words are prefect for modern-day comfort: It's hard to hear that your loved ones died well and are in a better place when other families are whole and together. You grieve not because you never had someone dear in your life, but because you had someone that you loved who is now lost to you.
Comfort is not found in fancy grammar and adjectives, but in simple sincerity.
Pericles' Funeral Oration may be read at http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/GREECE/PERICLES.HTM
© 2002 Tocqevillian Magazine