Observing Responses to Greatness and Humility

Good Saturday evening,

I am back in my office needing to work on a multitude of things, but my mind cannot get the images of so many who attended the funeral of the Honorable Late Senator John S. McCain III and the resounding tribute about a human being who epitomized the serving of a cause greater than one’s self. During the past week, that refrain, that mantra was spoken again and again. What was impressive in what was noted about this hero, patriot, and generational statesperson was also the litany of words that noted his imperfections, his humanity, his integrity, and his unceasing character and energy to champion the country he loved so deeply. It is for those reasons (and others much deeper) that I take some time to write about him before I turn to the tasks that demand my time.

In February of 2000 I was married with three step-daughters, working for Gateway Computers, living in Oakland County, Michigan, as well as trying to finish my Ph.D. I had worked late and stopped at a McDonalds to grab something unhealthy to eat. Little did I know I would become the basis for an article in the conservative publication, The Christian Science Monitor, but as I sat alone, I was approached by a reporter who was covering the Michigan State Primary before the 2000 fall Presidential election. I was asked who I might vote for in the primaries as I remember, and though a registered Democrat, Michigan had open primaries. I was seriously considering voting for Senator McCain, who was still in a pretty close contest with the eventual nominee, George W. Bush and that is what I noted to my investigative reporter (here is the article URL for you: https://www.csmonitor.com/2000/0217/p1s2.html). Referred to as a “bespectacled computer salesman,” the writer noted that I supported McCain for his maverick qualities, but also his ability to reform. In addition, I noted that I respected what he had endured and that I believed he would make people “accountable” (McLaughlin). There was more personal to this accountability issue than my reporter/questioner realized. Yes, John McCain intrigued me and I will not tell you what I ultimately did in that primary, but I can tell you that our country needs many more Senator McCains. I can respect, beyond any words I might add, the many tributes for this incredible, fiery, compassionate, and competitive (and another person I believe could be called a Lion of the Senate) gentleman from Arizona, who served his country all of his adult life. He was 17 years old when he entered the Naval Academy. Now certainly having two Admirals in the family probably made his entrance into the academy, which is highly competitive, a somewhat foregone conclusion, but nevertheless, he believed he was destined to serve.

As I listened to the service this morning, held in the National Cathedral, our nation’s church, the first bars of the Navy Hymn brought tears to my eyes as that hymn seems to do whenever I hear it. Listening to the music of “Danny Boy” and watching his widow put her head on her son’s shoulders as she broke down had tears streaming down my face. I watched the entire service out of respect and awe for a likes of a person I (nor our nation) will probably never again be fortunate enough to have in our United States Congress in my lifetime. That is not something I am happy to say. Far from it. I believe that former Senator Liebermann said it best today when he said believed that the week’s events might have pushed us to rise above the partisan politics and rancor that seems to epitomize our nation’s Capitol, the men and women who serve in the Congress, and perhaps even us as common citizens. This is my paraphrase of the former Senator’s words, but I believe they embody the intent of what he said. One of the things noted by Cokie Roberts in her commentary this morning is how fewer ex-military are presently serving in the United States Congress, but it was noted that in the current election, the number of ex-military on the ballot is as high as it has been in more than a generation. What I realized listening to that is the veterans of World War II are mostly fallen, the veterans of Korea are still too often forgotten, but now in their upper 70s or 80s, and those of the Vietnam era, like myself are pondering retirement. There is something important to note about the veterans since then. They were not drafted or compelled to serve, they were and are volunteers. They chose and choose to serve today, epitomizing the cause of which Senator McCain speaks so eloquently, the cause of country and patriotism. What does it honestly mean to put the other first?

I believe there are to profoundly complex parts to this statement. First, who is the other? The other is any other human being. The other is that person we might find discomforting; we might find alarming; we might find so different that we do not know what to do. The other might be someone who looks differently, speaks differently, worships differently, believes differently, loves differently. In fact, most often, I would argue that is the case. As of late (and it is longer than since November 2016, and it more profound than Republican or Democrat) we have lost the ability to listen and see difference as opportunity for growth. As of late we have lost the ability to listen and respond to difference with civility and decorum. As of late, we have been reduced to the foolishness of allowing the 140 or 280 character trash talking to characterize our politics and our common discourse. It needs to stop, but only our of respect for the generations of people who have served and worked to make America something to aspire to, but before we truly lose what waning ability we have to make a difference in the world.

This is not to say that other countries have no responsibility for our global situation. They do, and I will tell you from my travels that there are amazing and hard-working people, people who want something better for their country and their children just as we do. I can say with no hint of uncertainty that there are Irish, Polish, Hungarian, Austrian, British, Ukrainian, Russian, Nepali, Egyptian, Sudanese, Spanish, German, Finnish, Czech, Slovakian, Norwegian, Danes, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese, who care deeply about the world and our mutual problems. We have no corner on morality or civility, but we have a responsibility to care about the other because of our rich heritage that comes from many of these actual places. I also believe they have a responsibility to care about us. In this statement, I am not saying I support everything either our government or the other governments do in the world in which we live. We live on a complex and globalized planet that is made of selfish and self-centered humans and governments. To think otherwise is to be naïve at best and delusional as something a bit worse. I can understand the nationalism that seems to plague the world in which we live (and I mean world), but selfishness never works. In the poignant and defiant words of his daughter today, perhaps the most important thing she noted was her father was defined by love. That emotion, that connection to other humans is what sets us apart from the rest of creation. As the writer of John’s Gospel says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NIV). From the Hanoi Hilton to the countless trips and fights Senator McCain fought in the halls of our Capitol, he somehow never forgot that he was serving the other in humility and with a sense of calling and duty. What an amazing example he set for us.

That being said, I could not help but cringe as his self scripted week-long remembrances have unfolded. The rancor that characterized the relationship he had with our sitting President was seldom far below the surface, and today, there was no room for doubt as it bubbled out in words and tears. While I cannot be deemed to be an ardent supporter of President Trump, I do respect the office and the need for civility. It is understandable, but sad that it seems we need to lose such a statesman to refocus the country on the need for bipartisanship or something as fundamental as exhibiting a sense of couth for all we meet. Politics should be about policy and not personality. Debate and argument is about reaching consensus rather than pouting and shouting when we disagree. The time for name calling and using language as a razor to go for the jugular when you disagree needs to end. Republicans and Democrats and American citizens (and those hoping to become one) need to return to the axiom of the words in John’s Gospel. Greater love is something we all need to strive for. Forgiveness is something we need to offer freely and profoundly to the other. It is one of the greatest powers we have. When I read about the fights that Senator McCain could have in the arena we call Washington, but then call that same person his friend, we have a glimpse of what forgiveness and love truly does. As I turn my focus back on the work at hand, I am reminded of the words of the poet and theologian, John Donne.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod
be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Eternal Rest to you, Honorable Senator McCain. Thank you most revered good and honorable servant. We are a more blessed nation and world because you were with us.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Author:

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

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