learning from elijah

“Pick a side — any side” is the dangling societal lure.

One of the Intramuralist’s aims is to always promote what’s better. With last week’s sudden passing of the honorable, Rep. Elijah Cummings, if we paused, if we actually took the time, cleared the noise, turned off the TV, we again have opportunity to see something better…

“There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings. I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff — please pray for them. I will miss him dearly.” 

“Saddened to learn of the passing of @RepCummings this morning. In my time working with him, he was upfront, gracious, & caring… God bless you, faithful servant…” 

“Very sad to learn that my colleague Rep. Elijah Cummings has passed away. He leaves a legacy as a determined public servant and strong fighter for civil rights.”

Cummings was an avowed Democrat. Each and all of the above were shared by members of the so-called other “side,” respectfully, from Republican Representatives Mark Meadows, Chip Roy, and Steve Scalise.

As tributes have continued to roll in from all “sides” these past few days, perhaps most poignant to me were the words of former Rep. Trey Gowdy, an ardent, conservative man who like Cummings, is known for the vehement expression of his conviction. I will not soon forget their much publicized 2015 argument, when the two of them, who were the top committee members on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, in front of a silent Hillary Clinton, went back-and-forth for multiple minutes, mostly just screaming at each other.

This week, no less, Gowdy contributed an op-ed piece in The Washington Post and tweeted at length about Cummings. Wrote Gowdy…

“Elijah Cummings was one of the most powerful, beautiful & compelling voices in American politics. The power and the beauty came from his authenticity, his conviction, the sincerity with which he held his beliefs…

We never had a cross word outside of a committee room. He had a unique ability to separate the personal from the work. The story of Elijah’s life would benefit everyone, regardless of political ideation.

He was my friend, and it is that part of life working with Elijah that I will remember and cherish the best and the longest…

Members of Congress don’t always give advice to (or take advice from) one another. Most don’t have the kind of relationship where you can, but we did.

We did because we tried to understand where the other had come from, what made us who we were, why we believed what we believed…”

Gowdy’s op-ed was entitled, “Elijah Cummings and I were political opponents. We were also good friends.” 

Having watched the men (and more) bicker before the camera, most would not have known the depth of Cummings and Gowdy’s friendship. Most would not have guessed that each was sincerely intentional in understanding why the other believed what he believed.

Hence, one of the emerging insights from the week is that what we are witnessing on TV are just snippets… snippets. Snippets do not form an authentic narrative.

Wrote The Atlantic: “The story of the veteran lawmaker is one more example of how, in Washington, appearances deceive, and public performances and private relationships often diverge.”

One of the deceiving appearances in Washington is this need to pick a side. The danger in the side-picking, though, is that it fools us into thinking we no longer need to work at trying to understand why another believes what they believe.

My sense is that Cummings and Gowdy knew that. They knew what’s better.