"He didn't just see a tangle of plastic and tubes; he saw our beautiful little girl, and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her," Pam Finlayson told the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Thursday night. She was talking about the man of the hour, Mitt Romney, and the love he demonstrated as a lay bishop in the Mormon Church. Her daughter was born three and a half months early, with grave medical problems.
"Our daughter Kate grew into an amazing girl of faith and love," Finlayson said, to audible relief and applause from the audience, as a photo of a girl in an angel costume appeared in the background. Shock filled the room, however, as she continued: "Complications of her birth remained with her, and after 26 years of both miracles and struggle, she passed away just a year and a half ago."
We want the happy ending. All too often we are culturally conditioned to expect it. And though one of the themes of the RNC this year was love, it wasn't the stuff of greeting cards.
As Ann Romney explained it, her relationship with her husband cannot be expressed through the usual "storybook marriage" trope. "In the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called 'M.S.' or 'breast cancer.'"
"What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage," she declared.
Former senator and onetime Romney rival Rick Santorum elaborated on the virtues of just such an institution prior to Ann Romney's speech.
"Many Americans don't succeed because the family that should be there to guide them, and serve as the first rung on the ladder of success, isn't there or is badly broken," he observed.
Before making the case that Romney's policies could bolster marriage, Santorum said: "The fact is that marriage is disappearing in places where government dependency is highest. Most single mothers do heroic work and an amazing job raising their children, but if America is going to succeed, we must stop the assault on marriage and the family."
It's a theme that Romney has been running with, and one that I've personally heard him talking about in one way or another since I first started paying attention to him in 2005. In the most important speech of his political life thus far, in Tampa, he said: "My mom and dad gave their kids the greatest gift of all -- the gift of unconditional love. They cared deeply about who we would be, and much less about what we would do."
"Unconditional love," he reflected, "is a gift that Ann and I have tried to pass on to our sons and now to our grandchildren. All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal this world like the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers."
Love is a many-splendored thing. And it can even reach across political parties. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, prayed at the RNC and will do so at the Democratic National Convention as well. He will also break bread with both candidates at a charity dinner on Oct. 18, hoping to bring light "in a time when divisiveness and almost a hyperbolic partisanship seem to have overtaken the American political process," he tells me.
"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal," St. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13. It's a wedding favorite, for obvious reasons. "And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing." This is true in life and in politics: Without love, any victory is fleeting.