Our Consoler-in-Chief

Posted 1/27/21

President Joseph Biden has used his Constitutional authority to issue executive actions designed to revamp the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, bolster our nation’s struggling economy, …

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Our Consoler-in-Chief

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President Joseph Biden has used his Constitutional authority to issue executive actions designed to revamp the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, bolster our nation’s struggling economy, overhaul immigration legislation and restore international treaties to curb climate change.

Readers of the News + Record will have differing opinions about these actions, for they are in large part a repudiation of the previous administration’s own executive orders.

But though there is disagreement about policy matters, I believe this president can inspire unity among residents of this land. Before his inauguration, Biden led a remembrance ceremony for the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

He is our Consoler-in-Chief.

While Biden is not known for his oratorical brilliance, he is well-acquainted with grief. When he was only 30 years old, he lost his wife and daughter in a car accident the week before Christmas. Later in life, he lost another child to cancer.

Our president’s history of personal tragedies allows him to speak directly and profoundly to our country’s woes in the pandemic. While it was moving to see the luminaries dedicated to those who have died from COVID-19, Biden offered illuminating words as well: “To heal, we must remember.”

Our larger culture expects us to move on quickly after our loved ones have died. Many people do not even say the word “dead” but use euphemisms like “passed away” or “gone home.” It is painful to remember a loved one’s death. But undertaker and poet Thomas Lynch says that, even more than our fear of death, we fear that “our stories will die with us, and won’t be told or will be told incorrectly.”

We are most afraid we will be forgotten.

With this ultimate fear in mind, we should consider the connection our Consoler-in-Chief drew between healing and remembering. Perhaps lost in the sheer enormity of a number like 400,000 is that each death has ended a personal relationship — a son or daughter, mother or father, spouse or grandparent, neighbor or friend. Biden can relate to such heartbreaking loss. He sought to remember our nation’s dead and thereby shine a light upon our collective grief. By acknowledging the pain, we may yet regroup and move forward together.

Biden directed those luminaries to be lit outside of the Lincoln Memorial, which is named for another president who oversaw another time in our nation’s history of great suffering, loss and polarization. In our day, we must reunify our country after election controversy and the mob violence at the Capitol Building. Our nation is split along partisan lines as well as fractured by geographic, economic and racial differences.

Our Consoler-in-Chief understands the challenges we face. Once again, it is Biden’s personal story that offers further illumination. And hope.

In 1977, he became engaged to Jill Jacobs. He wondered how she could agree to marry a man who admittedly was heartbroken over the death of his first wife. She replied, “Anybody who can love that deeply once can do it again.”

Granted, a robust democracy is characterized by peaceful dissent. We will have our differences about policies and legislation. People will disagree with Biden’s decisions. Like all of us, he will make mistakes.

Yet, his heart is in the right place. May the same be true of all of us who love our United States.

Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.


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