A Sense of Where We Are

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The interesting thing is that people can actually do this; can take a terrifying, chaotic act and eventually make some sense of it. What occurred outside the Washington Hilton was irrational and destructive. Yet the reactions it generated were both sane and helpful; and they were connected to one's best feelings about the country and the Government. When the President was shot, Americans prayed very hard, not for the life of an abstraction, but for a man, one who as leader of the democracy carries some thing of everyone in that mortal chest. If people were ashamed and dismayed that such horrors could continue to happen in a civilized place, they were also proud and relieved that the Gov rnment of that civilized place could not be rattled.

But there were even more basic feelings brought out by Mon day's events. Trust, for one thing: the belief that in spite of all the initial misinformation, the facts would eventually be known. Patience, for another; and a general absence of panic. Faith in science, as the doctors were relied on to tell the country what its future looked like. Faith in God, for those who have it. Faith too in the press, remarkably; the same press that is excoriated as a matter of daily habit, still counted on in a real emergency to get the truth as best it can, as fast as it can — and to tell it. A sense of national unity, in sadness and anxiety. A sense of outrage at violence. If the U.S. really were as fundamentally violent as it is made out, there would never be such uniform despair and disgust when violence occurred.

Then too there was kinship with the suffering, with Jim Bra dy, especially; old Brady "the Bear," Brady the joker, the poker-faced inventor of Goat Gap Texas Chili and Captain Brady's Nightie Night, who wasn't kidding when he described his new position as "the toughest p.r. job in the world." And kinship with life, with Sarah Brady holding her husband's hand, waiting for the squeeze to be returned.

Such feelings make it possible to survive a week like the last one. They attest to the normalities of our lives, and suggest that in the long run there is a gentleness and decency that pre vails over the berserk flashes and the threats of sudden death.

Yet these shootings leave scars, and they ought to. Why are all these handguns still around? Why can 't creatures like Hinckley be reached before they reach others? When the President en tered the hospital, he told his friend, Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt: "Don't worry about me. I'll make it." By the weekend the country was thinking the same thing, with the same uncertain bravery.

—By Roger Rosenblatt

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