Wednesday, June 09, 2004

In memoriam

I don't ordinarily talk about politics here, for a variety of reasons, and I'm not going to start now. I am, however, going to pause for a brief moment to remember a man who played an enormous part in my formative years.

I was 13 years old in January of 1981, growing up in Orange County, California. It was a fairly idyllic childhood, looking back now, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity it provided to explore and grow while always knowing that I was safe and very much loved.

I remember, vividly, as though it were only yesterday, sitting in the library with my classmates and watching the inauguration of President Reagan. So many in the media and in government predicted nuclear halocaust under this new president, claiming that he would bring about our destruction. I, of course, knew nothing of such things. I was a young girl, new to the idea that boys weren't such a bad thing (if you could find the right one), and looking forward to my high school years. In the following eight years, our country, and the world, would change dramatically under the watch of this man.

Many of you reading this today are probably too young to remember what it was like to be scared that the Soviet Union was going to launch a nuclear missile at Great Britain or at the United States. Heck, you're probably too young to even remember the Soviet Union as anything other than an entry in the history books. I'm certain that you don't remember what it felt like, night after night, to listen to Walter Cronkite intone the number of days American hostages had been held in Iran by militants. I do. I remember that so very clearly and I remember the pain that I felt, as a young girl, as I watched our country do nothing to help them. America was supposed to be invincible, the President was supposed to keep us all safe, and people everywhere were supposed to have the freedom to live their lives in the manner of their choosing.

I know that many have spoken, in the last few days, of the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan, and I wouldn't be able to do them justice, so I won't try. I will say this, though, that I believe he was a good man, a fair man, and, truly, a man who believed in the greatness and wonder that was, and still is, America. I'm sure that there are many of you out there that are saying to yourselves, "yeah, yeah, that was all an act, he was just as cynical as the rest of them." I respectfully submit that you are wrong.

I had the great honor of meeting the former President in 1989 while I was working for a gubenatorial candidate in California. I was allowed to be part of a small group of people in a conference room at a hotel in Century City who would be able to shake hands and have their pictures taken with President Reagan. He walked into the room, beaming that magnificent smile of his, and immediately lit up the room with his warmth and laughter. He stopped and chatted with each person he was introduced to, making each feel recognized and special.

When he stepped in front of me, the young aide next to him introduced me, explained that I was an intern with the Wilson campaign, and he took my hand. He asked me where I went to school and what I was studying, and I told him, just as though he were one of my parents' friends. Then came the moment I will never forget. He looked me right in the eye and told me that it was young people like me that held the key to America's promise and that I should never forget how lucky I was to live in a country where a young man from a small prairie town with humble beginnings could grow up to become President of the United States. The warmth and sincerity of his manner rendered me speechless, a feat all too rare in my life. [Yes, I really remember his words after all these years. You would, too, I promise.]

Today, though, what I am struck by most about this man is the love that he had for his wife, Nancy. Many have vilified her as some sort of manipulator, bent on using her addled husband to satisfy some sort of warped personal agenda. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the videos, the pictures, listen to her words - this woman simply adored - and still does - her husband. He was her everything. He was her entire life. To have a love like that, even to merely experience it from afar, shakes you to the core, because you know how deep that feeling is and how hot it burns. Patty Davis, their daughter, said this about her father's final moments: “In his last moment, he taught me that there is nothing stronger than love between two people, two souls...it was the last thing he could do in this world to show my mother how entwined their souls are...and it was everything.” That, my friends, is Love, and Love, truly, is everything.

Requiem in Pace.

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