In the days following his death, Senator John McCain was able to do what no individual political figure has been able to do during these past two years. He gave us a period of mourning that jarred our senses back to believing in the better part of our souls. He gave our collective lives the gift of hope, even if for a moment.
In McCain's final letter to Americans he wrote:
"We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do."
Strength. It's what carried Senator McCain through his own life's journey, and what he encouraged us to think about in the week after his final days. It superseded politics or political party at a time when we thought nothing could. His personal story of being a combat fighter pilot shot down during the Vietnam war and held as a prisoner of war for five years, had all the makings of legendary before his death. But the postscript of his meticulously pre-planned funerals will now be etched into modern times.
The Republican Senator from Arizona brought us together again, a feat that could only be described as herculean at this point in time. There wasn't one large funeral, but multiple steps along the way that made us feel as if John McCain was paying us respect, as we sought to pay him ours. A unique thread of determined purpose that often broke with tradition was unveiled over days.
He bid farewell to his beloved Arizona, lying in state at its Capital in Phoenix. Sharing the most private of times with the public becomes part of the way of life for many political families, but it's never easy. There was enormous poignancy in the impromptu moments of John McCain's farewell that continually brought us back to the man himself as a husband, father and grandfather. The image of Cindy McCain resting her head of his casket was heartbreaking. Anyone who has experienced loss understood.
But when his time at the Capital had ended, Senator McCain exited in a way that could only bring a smile and was definitely unique to the man. Music began to play unexpectedly with Frank Sinatra singing "My Way". Of course.
We learned which public figures he personally asked to speak at all of the services in his honor, and which one he did not. The funeral at the Phoenix North Baptist Church began McCain's last shout out across the political isle with bi-partisan becoming the mantra of his farewell. First it was former Vice President and long time friend Joe Biden who identified himself as he began to speak, "My name is Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat and I loved John McCain." He continued to tell us, "It wasn’t about politics with John. You could disagree on substance. It was about the underlying values that animated everything John did." Biden spoke of the McCain's call for civility and respect in the era of partisanship and divisiveness. "John believed so deeply and so passionately in the soul of America."
So much was personal in Senator McCain's farewell, even if you never met him. It was hard not to have some part of the week touch you. As the former pilot began his last flight from the Phoenix airport en route to Washington, D.C., we heard air traffic controllers giving their directions and then softly adding a personal farewell to the man they have guided on so many flights, "We"d like to say good by to a man who has meant so much... And there they go...we'll direct them back to Andrews Air Force Base."
Senator John McCain became the 32nd person in history to lay in state in the Rotunda of our nation's Capitol. His colleagues in Congress paid their respects to a man who had spent over three decades in the U.S. Senate. At his pointed request, and contrary to tradition, both Democrat and Republican leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives jointly placed wreaths around his casket.
The final public tribute took place at Washington's National Cathedral that was filled to capacity with invited guests. Three former Presidents of the United States, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama stood inside waiting to honor a man who was both opponent and ally.
Every funeral service has its eulogies, but never had a United States Senator asked two men who defeated him in his presidential runs, to address those gathered in mourning. John McCain did just that. As President Obama said, "What better way to get a last laugh than to make George (Bush) and I say nice things about him to a national audience. And most of all, it showed a largeness of spirit, an ability to see past differences in search of common ground." President Bush added, "John is the first to tell you he was not a perfect man but he dedicated his life to national ideals that are as perfect as men and women have yet conceived."
Since 2016, we as a country have, in large part, been looking for someone to help lift us up from the depths brought upon us by the actions our current President. It sadly took the death of the Senator John McCain to help us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and realize once again that coming together for a greater good benefits us all. With all that lay ahead in coming weeks, we need to vividly remember what has taken place during the last week of August 2018, and the feelings it inspired.