Dead Leaders

JACKSON assassination

Would anyone be surprised that I’ve been annoyed? I didn’t think so. I have also been wistful this weekend.

I am always sad to hear that someone’s time is up. That’s it; you’ve done all you can do; there are no more do-overs, apologies, compliments. The opportunities to love and learn a new thing are gone. I’m sad because one day it will be me that people are remarking on as dead. What will be said about me? If anyone notices, will they recall that really shitty thing I did one time, that mean thing I said? Will you remain unforgiving that I didn’t agree with your political philosophy and declare me the enemy of the people? Probably not; most of us just get gone. Some will get an obit and a eulogy, but we’re just gone and memories of our existence – good or bad– just fade.

OK, John McCain died and I was feeling all those things. He struck me as a fine person to have as a next door neighbor. I’d have a beer with him and maybe a good conversation. Was he a great leader? I don’t think so. Should we teach our children to be good Republicans of the 21st Century? I’m hyperventilating at the thought.  Should he be eulogized in all these glowing terms? That there’s the question du Jour.

I think so, at least in the immediate post-mortem. It may be OK at this point to not discuss what we didn’t like about him and there was much to dislike about this particular politician. By referencing what was good we have an opportunity teach our children, each other, and our politicians still living what we honor and value in our communities. While we are struggling to see it right now, we remain a Civil Society where snipers are not shooting at people with license plates from the wrong state, people are not daily being beaten by roving mobs of extremist ideologues, and we don’t blatantly arrest people who espouse radical ideas.

So why this incredible fuss? Old politicians die and we don’t give them all so much press and fawning. Maybe we are desperate for civility in our current pack of leaders. Maybe, it’s because we want some dignity restored to the statesmen in Washington and our city halls. How many of us whisper to our confidants that we miss Richard Nixon or that we long for a kindly, if daft, Ronald Reagan? After all, even they were better than this. Sure we mostly say that with a nervous laugh, some serious irony, or massive sarcasm, but a wee bit of us means it. We don’t wish for a return of their policies. Most of us understand that their policies are what brought us to this crisis point. We are pining for kindness, no matter how insincere. We long for respectful conversation, no matter how disingenuous. We want to feel safe.

If you are tempted to be outraged over painting this dead politician with soft, atmospheric watercolors, I would ask you to give a moment to consider what we all value in our leaders and to say those things out loud. Keep a mental note as you listen and you might find ways into their hearts later. At the end, we all value pretty much the same qualities and this is a moment for us all to behave like the leaders we want and listen to learn.  If aren’t happy with the status quo, embrace the changes that you want to see in others.

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