There is an old Jewish belief that one should not say anything negative about the dead—especially on the day of their funeral. Instead, we should remember and honor the good deeds they have done and the wise words they have spoken. One has to agree that the harmony and the niceties displayed at the funeral of former President George H. W. Bush reflected that saying. From the politically astute gesture of sending Air Force One to bring the President’s body to Washington, to the front row presence of former Presidents and First Ladies with the current President and First Lady, this was a harmonious and great event. There was a truly diverse group of people who came to memorialize the President and the extended Bush family even took a moment for a picture in front of the portrait of their father/grandfather.
When George H.W. Bush was the president, journalists could rarely find a nice word to say about him. But after his passing, they suddenly found all sorts of great things that they had missed. Those who often talked about his patrician background and how he was not able to identify with the working class found that there were many other areas in which he was very approachable. Even those who accused both Bush presidents of butchering the English language managed to find humor and depth in some of their truncated statements
We historians are odd creatures. Not only do we study history—records, diaries, memoirs, and memorabilia such as clothing and pottery shreds, but we also try to meet those who have an impact on history. Thus, I have gone to see popes, international evangelists, and presidential candidates. While employed by Central Baptist Church in 1992, I went to hear then-candidate Bush speak at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Middletown. I arrived early, and he arrived late. I was in the front row at 11:00 a.m. and he was scheduled to be there at 1:00 p.m., but he arrived closer to 3:00 p.m. Because of this delay, I spent close to four hours talking with various people around me, primarily students from Rutgers University. When Bush finally started to speak, I found out that my neighbors were all political protesters and the photographers were quick to take the students’ pictures. Early the next morning, I went to buy my copy of the Asbury Park Press, only to sigh with relief because the angle of the picture did not include me with the protesters! Historians are there to experience reality, but we rarely protest. We are a peaceful bunch.
During his lifetime, President Bush wondered if any people would come to bid him farewell when he was placed in the United States Capitol Rotunda. He did not need to worry. Friends and former foes alike came to bid him farewell and to give him thanks for what he did in his life. In a wonderful gesture indicative of Bush’s desire to identify with the all kinds of people, his body was returned to Texas by train; this presidential option was started by President Abraham Lincoln, although it has rarely been used in the 20th or 21st century.
It was a week of tranquility and peace, where people placed aside their differences, celebrated life, and acknowledged our collective mortality. Until the Lord Jesus Christ returns, our lives’ journeys will come to an end and people will remember us in one way or another, and we hope that it will be peaceful and harmonious.
While there was peace and tranquility in Washington this week, those from whom we have learned politeness and respect, namely the English people, have been vehemently arguing in Westminster over Brexit. Yet in their midst of their arguments, it is good to hear the preface to their arguments: “My esteemed” or “my honorable colleague,” before they start disagreeing.
Now that we are in the Advent Season, I am reminded of the song that the angels sang for the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, harmony, shalom, among the people with whom God is pleased.”
I pray that God will be pleased with us and that we will be messengers of peace and harmony wherever we are.