Reagan, once more (6/11/04)
I was up until midnight last night, which is about three hours past my normal bedtime nowadays. Just before I went to bed, I asked my wife to go to our closet and pick out the best set of clothes for me that she could, and I told her why. (I'm a moron when it comes to personal attire, and I have absolutely no sense of things such as color coordination; but she is good at that, so on important occasions I always ask for her help.) I then went into the living room and spit-shined a pair of black shoes, the same ones I normally wear to work. When I finished, I looked them over and decided that, no, they simply wouldn't do -- not for this occasion, anyway. The leather was cracked. So I returned to the closet and got a pair of maroon-colored Italian leather shoes that I love but seldom wear, unless I know I will not have to do much walking in them. I then spent about 15 more minutes spit-shining this pair to a high gloss, then carefully laid out the entire ensemble so it would be ready for me first thing in the morning. This was, of course, a gesture of affection and profound respect. I was doing it for Ronald Reagan. I think it was the first time I have ever found genuine pleasure in the mundane act of shining a pair of shoes.
The funeral service in the National Cathedral was simply splendid. I was touched most by Lady Thatcher's recorded remarks, prepared well over a year ago, when her doctors told her she should not make any more public speeches and she replied that she was going to give this one, come hell or high water. She moved me to tears, the only one of the speakers to do so (although all were excellent), as much for the circumstances under which she gave the eulogy as for the remarks themselves; and I knew this former British prime minister would understand why a court interpreter in Arizona would stay up spit-shining his shoes until past midnight, in preparation for a funeral he would watch the following morning from an easy chair in his living room. I also noted that she, Reagan, and Pope John Paul II all arrived to destiny within a couple of years of each other, and that all three had had an enormous impact for good in the world. And I sensed that sometime in the near future, Lady Thatcher and the Pope will likewise enter the paradise of God, there surely to be greeted by the man she was honoring today.
And of course, in Ronald Reagan's case, even a funeral would not have been complete without a good dose of humor, and I loved the story President Bush told, which I will summarize for the benefit of those who were unable to hear it. Reagan was a prolific letter-writer, and even when he was President a number of ordinary citizens would check their mailboxes and find in them handwritten letters under the White House letterhead. One such recipient was a young boy of perhaps six, who had written to the President asking for federal aid in helping him to clean up his room. Reagan wrote back, in longhand, and told the kid that federal funds for such cleanup projects were running "dangerously low" at the moment; that the boy's mother had nevertheless done the right thing in proclaiming his room a disaster area; and then suggested that perhaps this might be a good opportunity for him to organize a neighborhood volunteer project.
I am spending the afternoon running some errands, and then I will go home to watch the burial later today. (I will change back into the church clothes for that.) The author of an article in this week's Newsweek made a touching observation, which I will try to paraphrase here. He noted that Reagan's grave will be on a hill overlooking the Pacific, on the westernmost edge of the continent, where the sun sets after the rest of America is already dark. And, he continued, that was so much like Reagan -- to bask in the light, to make the day last, and to relish it right up to the very end.
In her remarks this morning, Lady Thatcher quoted a line from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, with which I am familiar, and about which I myself had reflected throughout this long and historic week. But she did not have time to quote it more extensively, so in concluding my own cyberspace tributes to this great man, I will herewith fill in the gap myself. Like the well-tailored suits or Western clothes he always wore, this passage fits Ronald Reagan splendidly:
"This river has been a terror to many; yea, the thoughts of it have also frighted me. But now, methinks, I stand easy. My foot is fixed upon that upon which the feet of the priests that bare the Ark of the Covenant stood, while Israel went over this Jordan. The waters indeed are to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold; yet the thoughts of what I am going to, and the conduct that awaits me on the other side, doth lie as a glowing coal at my heart.
"I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am now going to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and that face that was spit upon for me.
"I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith, but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him in whose company I delight myself. . . .
"I am going to my Father's, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the riverside, into which as he went he said, 'Death, where is thy sting?' And as he went down deeper he said, 'Grave, where is thy victory?' So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."