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December 5, 2018

The Final Gift

Patricia A. Kelly

My neighborhood flag is flying at half-staff. Our 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, has died. Today is a national day of mourning.


President Bush the elder was an extraordinary man, universally acclaimed in death – if not in life.


He was white, born to privilege, and educated at Yale, an Ivy League school. We forgive him for that, despite some current views concerning old, white, privileged men. They at least buttoned up their shirts and zipped their zippers before they went downtown.


He was not only the youngest combat pilot in World War II, but the last combat veteran president. He signed up to fight, leaving his privilege behind, as soon as he turned 18.


He spent decades of his life in public service, as United Nations ambassador, envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president, and President of the United States. He may have been the most qualified American to ever serve as president.


His intelligence, his diplomatic skill, his understanding of foreign cultures and of the military, not to mention his good sense and decency, served him and us well during the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the prosecution of the first Gulf War. The quick ending to that war was such a relief after the endless political struggle that was Vietnam.


He loved his wife and family enormously and worked to create a good life for them. He loved his dogs and their puppies. He loved to fish and to socialize, and to cuddle with his grandchildren. He treasured his enduring friendships.


He achieved more than most of us can imagine, while remaining kind and humble. We can see him near the end, smiling, wheelchair bound, in the company of his wife and family. We loved her, too.


Having him serve as the leader of our country was a gift. One could sleep at night, knowing someone fine and capable was looking out for us. He and Barbara set an example of loving, straightforward family life. We’ll never forget her triple strand of white pearls, covering up her neck wrinkles, or his assertion that being shot didn’t make one a hero.


As we look back today, from the midst of the hatred and vituperation that surrounds us, we can appreciate them more than ever.


The last gift he gave to us was to pass on his grace, and his class to his family, so we could see them behave with such honor and dignity upon his passing. They specifically invited President Donald Trump to attend his funeral. How refreshing.  How appropriate. President Trump responded in kind, expressing his own grief and his own admiration of this very special man., and offering what help he could with funeral arrangements and national mourning.


We all needed this moment of respect and decency in the worst way. It is a moment in which the proper order of things is restored, where someone shines his shoes before church, or tips his hat out of respect.


What a relief. What a breath of fresh air. What a moment in which our arms are laid aside, and we emulate the behavior of a quietly great man, softening our voices for just a bit out of respect and affection.


Leave it to George Herbert Walker Bush to end his life with this gift to a weary nation hoping for better.


Thanks President Bush. May you and Barbara sing (perfectly on key) with the angels today and always.


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