Throngs of people streamed into the Capitol Rotunda yesterday to spend a moment before the flag-draped casket of President George H. W. Bush. Among them was Sen. Bob Dole.
While serving in the Army during World War II, Dole was badly wounded by German machine gun fire. He never regained use of his right arm; his left arm is minimally functional. Nonetheless, he went on to serve Kansas in Congress from 1961 to 1996 and run for president in 1996 as the Republican nominee.
Now ninety-five years old, he is confined to a wheelchair. But he wanted to pay his respects to President Bush, so aides helped him stand. He then used his left hand to salute the casket.
It was one hero saluting another. I hope you’ll watch the now-viral video.
“Your success is now our country’s success”
Today has been designated a day of mourning for President George H. W. Bush. His remains are lying in state at the US Capitol this morning. His son, President George W. Bush, will deliver the eulogy at Washington National Cathedral later today.
Many are mourning the passing not just of a great man but also of the civility he represented. Consider one example of his gracious spirit.
In 1989, President Reagan left a humorous note for his successor in the drawer of his Oval Office desk. In 1993, after a bitterly fought presidential campaign, President Bush left a letter in the desk for the man who defeated him, cementing a tradition that has continued to this day.
“When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
“I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
“There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
“You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
“Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
“There is but one just use of power”
Consider another example of President Bush’s kindness and humility. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, he invited Mikhail Gorbachev to Camp David. Driving the presidential golf cart, he took the Soviet leader to one of his favorite spots, the horseshoe pit.
Bush asked Gorbachev if he had ever played horseshoes. Gorbachev said he had not. Bush suggested a game. Gorbachev agreed and got a ringer on his first throw. Bush had the horseshoe mounted on a plaque, which he gave to Gorbachev at dinner that night.
It seems everyone who worked with Mr. Bush had a story about his gracious spirit. The president was not just being himself–he was modeling the change he wanted to see in the nation he led.
In his inaugural address, President Bush began with a prayer in which he stated, “There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord. Amen.” Later he stated: “If the man you have chosen to lead this government can help make a difference; if he can celebrate the quieter, deeper successes that are made not of gold and silk, but of better hearts and finer souls; if he can do these things, then he must.”
So must we.
“Then shall your light rise”
One of the ways I believe God wants to redeem the passing of George Herbert Walker Bush is by calling us to follow his example.
After describing Mr. Bush as “arguably [America’s] finest single life of patriotic service,” Purdue University president and former governor Mitch Daniels asks: “Is it too much to hope that the final contribution of this giant life might be to cast before the country an example of virtues that have eroded and nearly disappeared? The very virtues that have sustained the American Experiment through its hardest trials?”
We live in a day dominated by geopolitical conflicts and economic uncertainty (as yesterday’s stock market plunge shows). Brexit is dividing Great Britain from Europe and Brits from each other. The European Union is more divided than at any time in its fifteen-year history. Muslims are split into Sunni and Shia. Russia threatens Eastern Europe and China is ascendant.
Big problems seem to call for big solutions. It is tempting to think that we cannot change anything unless we can change everything. But the opposite is actually true.
The most significant way to change the world is to help someone in need: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10). That’s because the only things in this world that are eternal are not things.
“Engaged in high moral principle”
Years ago, a friend encouraged me to “make a difference where you are, because you certainly can’t make a difference where you’re not.”
I will close today with my favorite lines from President George H. W. Bush’s inaugural address: “America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”
Will you make this purpose yours today?