President Obama’s address to the nation, delivered last night from the Tuscon, Arizona hospital where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is recovering from Saturday’s tragic shooting, has been lauded basically across the board.
The Atlantic published the reaction of Pulitzer Prize-winning Park Slope novelist Michael Chabon, however, and he voiced his initial lack of enthusiasm with the speech. His complaint has as its origin the comment about slain 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green, famously born on September 11, 2001. “If there are rain puddles in heaven,” Obama said, “Christina is jumping in them today.”
He describes his gripe thusly: “I tried to imagine how I would feel if, having, God forbid, lost my precious daughter, born three months and ten days before Christina Taylor-Green, somebody offered this charming, tidy, corny vignette to me by way of consolation. I mean, come on! There is no heaven, man.”
But with touching grace Chabon doubles back on his knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes novelists can just do this stuff better.
But I’ve been chewing these words over since last night, and I’ve decided that, in fact, they were appropriate to a memorial for a child, far more appropriate, certainly, than all that rude hallooing. A literal belief in heaven is not required to grasp the power of that corny wish, to feel the way the idea of heaven inverts in order to express all the more plainly everything—wishes, hopes and happiness—that the grieving parents must now put away, along with one slicker and a pair of rain boots.
Kudos, Chabon. Your writing has certainly improved since that dark period in the 80s.