Posted on

Death and reverence know no political allegiance

I couldn’t help it. As fate would have it, I had a day off last week, and so was able to witness at least part of the return of the late President Ronald Wilson Reagan to the nation’s capitol.
He died Saturday, June 5, 2004, of pneumonia, at his much-loved ranch in California. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade and had been out of the limelight, for the most part, since his poignant letter of goodbye.
Yes, the service Wednesday in the Capitol and again Friday marked nearly a week of mourning, but the tributes were in part a celebration of his life and thanksgiving for his service to this nation and around the world.
I am a Democrat, most certainly not a Republican, but I couldn’t help it. When a president takes office or departs this world, all Americans should take notice. And so I did. The flag-draped coffin borne along on a horse-drawn caisson slowly, slowly made its way up Constitution Avenue toward the capitol. The procession, marked by the black riderless horse and Reagan’s own boots turned backward in the stirrups, all brought back stark visions of the past, especially of the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy more than four decades ago. So I just couldn’t help it then, either, only in part because his life had been cut so short by an assassin’s bullet. Also, it was the measure of the man no longer with us.
Then, it was little John John who saluted his father’s coffin. I couldn’t help it then and I couldn’t help it not long ago, when the boy had become a man only to meet his own tragic death in the Atlantic, off the island of Martha’s Vineyard. And again last week, when an unidentified Scout, seemingly about 10 or so years old, stopped at Reagan’s coffin lying in state in California, snapped to attention, and saluted.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan, appearing frail but regal throughout those long, long days on the arm of her steady military escort, Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, Wednesday stood at the top of the steps leading into the nation’s Capitol Rotunda. She watched and waited at the top of the steps as her husband’s coffin was carried by representatives of each branch of the military he commanded.
The steps on the west side of the capitol are as numerous as Reagan’s years. There he was sworn into office, and there his life was celebrated again Wednesday.
When the casket finally passed by the first lady, she couldn’t help it. She reached out and touched it, him, ever so briefly as it passed.
So, too, was Reagan’s life cut short, even at 93. Not so much in years, but in as much as a full decade was lost to Alzheimer’s disease. The thief that crept into his very being and stole away his memory before he died. Alzheimer’s. We tease each other here, occasionally, about such when for one reason or another we can’t remember a name or how to spell a street or even where we were two or three days before. It’s not really funny and we shouldn’t do that, we know. And we probably won’t for a while, now.
The loss of Reagan, though, means we shall not learn more from him, the actor, the gipper, the leader of our nation. Oh, we may study his position papers, if indeed he had any, but his counsel has been stilled. Although Reagan was a Republican, he had the sense of timing probably no one knows better than an actor. Above all, he knew how to lead, at a time when a jaded nation needed a leader.
I am a Democrat, have no doubt about it. I am also an employee of O’Bannon Publishing Co., even though holding to Democratic ideology is not a requirement to be so employed. Over the years, I came to know the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon, a Democrat, well, and respected him even more so. Still, I can take heed the passing of our nation’s 40th president. The patriotic music, the speeches, the prayers were intended for Democrats and Republicans alike. And such was the case at the ceremonies in Indianapolis and Corydon nearly a year ago for the life of Frank L. O’Bannon, once a senator, then a lieutenant governor and lastly, governor. And always a statesman.
That all came pouring back last week, and so I couldn’t help it.
No, I couldn’t help it at all, and no, I’m not apologizing. When the heart is heavy, it is OK to mourn. And it is OK to cry.