“… I wonder sometimes if we have forgotten who we are. But we’re the people who sundered the nation rather than allow a sin called ‘slavery’ — and we’re the people who rose from the ghettos and deserts.
And we weren’t saints — but we lived by standards. We celebrated the individual — but we weren’t self-centered. We were practical — but we didn’t live only for material things. We believed in getting ahead — but blind ambition wasn’t our way…
… I want a kinder, gentler nation…”
In his acceptance speech of his party’s nomination for President in August of 1988, George H. W. Bush called for that “kinder, gentler nation.”
If only we had those days back again… if only the younger generation knew those days… days when calls to kindness were first and foremost.
George H.W. Bush passed away yesterday at the age of 94, some seven months after his ever articulate wife, Barbara, also passed. And even though many mocked Bush’s call to kindness years ago, in the wake of his perceived lack of eloquence and charisma, there was always a sense of authenticity to said call over the course of his life.
After losing his re-election bid to Bill Clinton, for example, Bush left the following handwritten note to his successor:
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 now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Friends, that is evidence of a kinder, gentler nation.
The current cultural challenge seems not that we don’t witness that evidence so often; the current cultural challenge is that we no longer accept such as good. I thus sometimes wonder if, as Bush said, we have forgotten who we are.
Said Bill Clinton yesterday, acknowledging Bush’s note:
“No words of mine or others can better reveal the heart of who he was than those he wrote himself. He was an honorable, gracious and decent man…”
Two other specific aspects seem especially notable to me about this honorable, gracious, and decent man… first, his boldness; starting with the jump he made after the Japanese shot down his fighter plane over the Pacific during World War II in 1944, Bush made seven more parachute jumps — including on his 80th, 85th, and 90th birthdays.
And second, his faithful heart… while political pundits and onlookers may focus on his professional career, no doubt Bush’s prompting for calls of kindness was the fruit of his heart. George and Barbara lost their eldest daughter to leukemia just shy of her fourth birthday. It seemed to always affect them deeply, as they admitted in recent years they thought of young Robin every single day, no matter the decades later.
But remembering Robin wasn’t solely sorrowful. Said Barbara in an interview with “Today,” “Robin to me is a joy. She’s like an angel to me, and she’s not a sadness or a sorrow.”
May we remember George H.W. Bush with that same sense of joy… remembering him not as a saint, but as one who lived by standards…
… standards that never sacrificed kindness nor respect.