The funeral of former President George H.W. Bush is one for the ages.
It was a funeral of grace, of first families gathering in resolute politeness, of a family that has lost a great father sharing its grief with a nation that has lost a great president – a funeral of grace made by God’s glory in having one of his greatest sons now returned.
But most of all this funeral was a celebration of that which most defined its subject: patriotism. What is American patriotism if not this? A celebration of enduring duty to nation, to family, and to a life of humor and hard work. A life that made the nation better.
In biographer Jon Meacham’s eulogy, we heard of a life of service that nearly ended before it could serve so fully. But what preparation that early Pacific trial was. Meacham’s eloquence charted a life that saw war and peace, and navigated a perilous Cold War that might have ended the world. While George H.W. Bush was, like everyone, an “imperfect man,” Meacham said, “he left us a more perfect union.”
From his great friend and partner in politics and humor, Alan Simpson, we heard of Bush’s love of friendship, of trips to theaters and of Argentina not crying for forlorn feelings, and of loyalty. “It coursed through his blood: Loyalty to his country, loyalty to his family, loyalty to his friends, loyalty to the institutions of government.” Loyalty that made, Simpson said, “the most decent and honorable person” he has ever known.
From the former Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney, we heard of national leadership’s meaning and strain, and of that which provides leadership’s most impenetrable fortress: family. Mulroney spoke of the “serenity” he saw in the former president and his wife, Barbara, when they looked to “what they and the children have achieved, gratified by the goodness that God has bestowed upon them all, and genuinely content with the thrill and promise of each passing day.”
Former President George W. Bush’s eulogy gave us what he is: a pure blending of his parents; fierce, honorable, and funny. He described a father and a mother who inculcated their family with an abiding love for our nation’s nobler nature. Through these things, George W. Bush found “the best father a son or daughter could have,” who “showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.”
From his father, Bush also learned a most important presidential lesson: that “setbacks can strengthen.” Here I think to George W. Bush’s great challenge of Sept. 11, 2001, of a father who in that same National Cathedral stretched out a hand to steady his son’s nerve to do his duty. But breaking through the tears, Bush brought us the light of happiness: “In our grief, I just smile knowing dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again.”
In Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson Jr.’s homily, we were reminded how George H.W. Bush taught us that “Tolerance is a virtue, not a vice,” and that “Political parties are but a line in the sand to brush away” when the nation requires it. The reverend spoke of a family that has chosen to live in proof of its dedication to God and country.
It was a funeral, truly, for the ages.
It’s easy in this day and age to wonder whether our partisan divisions and policy difficulties endanger the nation’s better future. It’s easy, but days like today remind us that it’s wrong.
Today, united in saying goodbye to George H.W. Bush, we were reminded that our heritage sustains us. And that in our living heritage, our nation and its people remain most exceptional.