State of the Union
The Best of Days, the Worst of Days
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” Thus Charles Dickens opens his classic 18th-century novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set against the backdrop of the turbulent French Revolution.
Watching the state—and stately—funeral of George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, today, I thought many times of those words.
This is the best of days, it is the worst of days.
The best? Since President Bush’s death November 30th, we’ve been treated to remembrances of a thoughtful life, a life of service by a man, born to wealth, who chose to serve the country in so many ways. Who treated everyone with respect, humor, and grace. Who made difficult political choices. Who refused to celebrate the downfall of adversaries. Who truly saw and cared about people, no matter who they were or what their station in life.
He has reminded us of how “good” we can be and, by contrast and wordlessly, how deep the abyss in which we’re struggling now. He has provided a spark of hope that we can return to a time of civility, of decency despite differences, of a focus not on self but on solutions for the common good.
Yesterday, I was encouraged to read that a contingent of 46 newly-elected house Democrats had sent a letter to leadership asking that they prioritize health care, immigration, gun control and other pressing issues over investigations into the Trump administration. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s a nod to Michelle Obama’s, “When they go low, we go high.”
It’s a philosophy worthy of our 41st president. He was not a saint. Like predecessors and successors alike, he made mistakes and he certainly didn’t make us all happy all the time. We know that with the passage of time and life, flawed leaders often take on a glow they didn’t have in life. Nevertheless, the past few days we’ve been reminded how much better we once were—and we can be better again.