(The eulogy for three citizens can be found from 3:00 to 10:00.)
I don't know much about Gov. Phil Murphy from the neighboring state of New Jersey -- but I do know he has two admirable assets in a leader: a brain and a heart.
These were amply evident on Thursday when Gov. Murphy spoke about the impact of the pandemic on New Jersey, starting with the horrible facts and then moving into the personal.
In six-plus minutes, he eulogized three residents of New Jersey who had died of the virus.
They were selected as a balanced ticket – a Roman Catholic white man, a black man, and a Jewish woman, who had survived as a 15-year-old in Bergen-Belsen and remained a witness and a teacher, into her 90s.
As he introduced these three pillars of his state, Gov. Murphy used terms often heard at wakes and funerals, invoking some version of an Almighty to bless their hearts, bless their souls.
I doubt that any non-believer, even those allergic to religious presence in public, would be offended by the opening of Gov. Murphy’s own heart. He was feeling the tragedy of losing people, good people, to a killer. By blessing their lives, he was helping all of us feel the humanity of the fallen, and ours.
This is one of the highest callings of a leader, in any field. When David Stern passed recently, many people recalled him as tough negotiator as commissioner of the N.B.A., but I also recalled the day he had to banish a player (Micheal Ray Richardson) for life, for repeated violations of drug policy. Rather than be vindictive, Stern seemed to be feeling deeper emotions as he blurted, “This is tragedy.” He felt it. He made me feel it.
This was leadership from the heart, as was President Obama’s visit to the church in South Carolina where worshippers had been murdered by a man with a gun. The President took a deep breath and sang, a cappella, the first lines of “Amazing Grace.” He called a blessing on all. He made us feel the horror.
Amidst all the legal skirmishes about the presence of religion in public life, leaders often give witness to their faith, sometimes recklessly.
Jerry Falwell, Jr., has insisted on re-opening Liberty University; 78 cases of the coronavirus have since been detected in the immediate area. (Personal note: I covered religion in the late ’70s and knew and liked Falwell’s father. I bet Falwell, Sr., would have had enough sense to listen to medical experts.)
Nancy Pelosi often ascribes her public policies to her Roman Catholic faith. Former vice president Joe Biden and current New York governor Andrew Cuomo – who applies real facts, real logic, in his daily seminars on the plague – are said to bond in their faith.
Meantime, evangelicals ascribe a previously undetected faith to the current president. Preachers told their flock to vote for him in 2016 and I am sure they will again in 2020. He has speculated out loud about the eternal destination of the deceased landmark member of the House, John Dingell of Michigan.
There is no evidence that Donald Trump holds any belief in the goodness, inherent or potential, of others. His worth is measured in the stock market, how much relief money he can slip to his cronies. Life is a battle to make himself look good, pushing the rock uphill with every event. It is all about him.
Gov. Murphy helped us love the lives of the three citizens, as stand-ins for all the others who have fallen in recent weeks. However we felt it, however we expressed it, in religious or secular terms, we knew it was a tragedy.
May the governor have fewer occasions to introduce us to the fallen of his state.
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The transcript of Gov. Murphy’s eulogy for the three citizens:
A separate clip about Margit Feldman:
Holocaust survivor, NJ resident dies of COVID-19, honored by governor
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)