Reflecting on the life of George Herbert Walker Bush, which we all did last week, may leave America in a different place. Having worked in his White House, my mind focused and heart felt deeply what we saw. Still, last week’s events deserve a last comment – since much of the media will speed on, in search of the next story, not much reflecting on the past week. The secret: George HW Bush gave us another gift.
Come with me for a moment. Think with me on this. At the National Cathedral and in Texas, the Bush Family, the former President’s countless friends, and Americans of every stripe, creed, color, state, age, and conviction … paused to say “goodbye” to this good, and arguably great, man. But that is not all that happened last week.
Did you notice, as I did when I passed the casket of this faithful, purposeful, peaceful, and courageous man in the Capitol’s Rotunda, that there was a certain silence, seriousness and depth to this man’s passing, to his funeral? Did you notice that people who never weep, were weeping? Did you notice that people were respectful – no matter their views of our present moment?
I did. And as the week progressed, I noticed something else. In a timeless irony, one that may validate the truth behind its recognition, George HW Bush – man of unending gratitude for life, man of unabashed faith – may have done more for America this week, than in the past ten years. What did he do?
Here is what he did. By bringing his life to peaceful closure with love and conviction, commitment and alignment with his faith, by showing America what it looks like when a man prepares for, looks forward to, and embraces faith in the Afterlife, he lifted his family, friends, and all America. He taught, again.
In effect, what George Herbert Walker Bush did – in the way he closed his life of selfless service, since he planned his own funeral and knew who would speak, if not what they might say, was to remind us all that a life lived consistent with one’s faith, is a purposeful, hopeful and ultimately rewarding one. A life lived with concern – deeply felt – for others, gratitude in each day, awareness of an ever-present, loving God, is not just a good life – but one that ends well, by very definition.
And he did this, too. He caused every American who paused to watch and listen, to think and feel the day. He opened up a window on the depth of his personal faith – and caused even those with less inclination to think again about the very idea of faith.
How often do presidents do that? How often does anyone in the public eye really do that anymore? And yet he did that, perhaps accidentally, but surely as the natural extension of how he lived his life – grateful, open, friendly, hopeful and aware that he was never alone. Never alone, you say? Yes, never alone.
He knew he was not alone when he signed up out of high school to fly and defend America; he knew he was not alone when he lay wounded on the rolling ocean, having parachuted from a burning plane; he knew he was not alone when he stood watch on the San Jacinto’s deck, looking into those stars, knowing he had lost two aviator friends; he knew he was not alone when he later lost a daughter; he knew he was not alone when he suffered repeated defeats and rallied, eventually helped Ronald Reagan peacefully end the Soviet evil and held fire on liberating Kuwait. He knew he was not alone as he approached the end of this life, and as he prepared for the next.
The remarkable thing, on reflection, about last week – is this. George Herbert Walker Bush lived his life – a good, arguably great, life with constant attention to doing what he thought was asked of him. He sought to give, lovingly raised a family, protected a nation and seldom looked back. He always looked forward. In causing us to remember the importance of faith to his life, he caused us to remember its importance in ours. And – if you think about it – the importance of faith to the past, present and future of America. Even in his passing, George HW Bush gave us a gift.