When you run out of words, use symbols

A Chicagoan recalls the day FDR encouraged him and 60,000 of his fellow citizens to turn darkness into light.

Words aren’t all we have, said W.H. Auden. They’re just all we have to work with. But Auden was a poet and not a speechwriter—and the best speechwriters aren’t only wordsmiths, but dramatists. Before the memorial service this week in Dallas, a letter-writer to the Chicago Tribune lamented that President Obama must surely have run out of words by now.

Instead, I invite you to create your next message without words. To help us feel our national crisis in our guts. … I refer you, Mr. President, to an event right here in Chicago's own Soldier Field in 1942. Back then our country was also scared, for we stood on the edge of military disaster.

Back then President Roosevelt helped inaugurate a nationwide demonstration of what it means to realize the enormous pent-up power that crackles inside enormous unity of purpose.

I was there that night as we were asked to light the one little candle we had been given at the entrance. On cue, suddenly 60,000 little flickers became one dazzling burst of light. The night became day.

We all went home—here and in cities across the land—and understood more than ever the President's call…! the nation's need…! the undeniable fact that we each had a vital part in a great cause…!

That night didn't win any great battles, but it did help Americans see and sense, "We are all in this great thing together!"

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