“My father told me when I was small that I didn’t need to stand on my toes to touch God, because He is everywhere. He was right; God was in that room. In his last moment my father taught me that there is nothing stronger than love between two people. It reaches past death and cradles hearts that weep. The last thing he did in this world was to show my mother how entwined their souls are … and it was everything.”
– by Patti Davis, on the death of her father, President Ronald Reagan, written for People magazine, June 2004
I will never forget, in my late teen years, hearing people joke about the fact that our country was being run by a peanut farmer.
Then, in my early 20s, the jokes changed to the fact that we were being governed by an actor who pretended to be, among other things, a gentleman farmer on his big Hollywood ranch.
I never appreciated the jokes about either man.
Deserving respect. Politics aside, I felt both men deserved our respect rather than our sarcasm.
I held on to President Truman’s words in admonishing his testy general who had kept him waiting, saying that regardless of what the general thought of the man, as president of the United States of America, he deserved respect.
I grew up in the volatile years of Vietnam and Watergate in the post-Kennedy years. I was not yet 4 when President Kennedy was killed in November 1963, and yet I amazingly have a memory of those sad days.
I remember my dad saying that it was just too hard to watch, as he turned away from the black and white television coverage, the riderless horse evoking too much emotion to contain. I remember the tears. I remember holding on to the hope that Bobby Kennedy would see us through. I remember the morning I awoke to the dreadful news that he, too, had been gunned down. The heartache felt too great to bear.
I was young, but I was oh, so interested.
‘Political animal.’ I was born a political animal, though I can’t even quite say why. I do know that I cared in a way that simply could not be explained, and Watergate darn near killed my hopeful heart.
This past week, our country came together in a blaze of patriotism to bid farewell to our 40th president.
Some say that it was overdone, that it was over the top, the coverage too intense. Perhaps it was, but it seems a president is worthy.
He was born to an alcoholic father, and yet he became a figurehead for family values. He was a skinny kid who could barely see without his glasses, and yet he became a handsome movie star. When he realized his B-list career was washed up, he found a way to become a star of a different sort, first as governor of California, then as a two-term president.
After surviving an assassination attempt early in his presidency, it seemed his popularity was strengthened by handling his recovery with grace and charm.
But, throughout his later years, before Alzheimer’s clouded him from the country he loved, it was his ranch that gave him that sparkle and solace
The place to be. The photographs of him on horseback, of chopping wood or clearing brush, all seem to explain his robust smile, his genuine joy. It truly was where he wanted to be.
There are families grappling with dementia and Alzheimer’s everywhere, every day, and they are not blessed with the resources that the Reagan family had, and that is greatly regrettable.
But the Reagan power and money could not lift the cloak of sorrow that Alzheimer’s casts, either. In the end, the little boy born in Dixon, Illinois really was one of us.
Politics and Hollywood aside, he described himself as an American who loved serving his country. That, alone, is worthy of our respect.
And his passing is worthy of our tears.
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