John McCain 1936-2018
McCain’s recent death is profound and inspiring in so many ways. He lived a noble life as a serviceman and POW during the Vietnam War and later as a fierce and grounded politician and family man.
So many channels showed the tribute service at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona on Friday. There was an array of speakers, notably Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver for Arizona Cardinals and former VP Joe Biden. Each speaker started their tributes jokingly stating their differences from John McCain. Fitzgerald said, “I’m black and John is white.” Biden said, “I am a democrat, he is a republican.” Of course, neither would stop McCain from being a wonderful friend to these men.
A friend of mine expressed her sadness to me about his death. She commented how unfair it is that a good man was a prisoner of war for five years and then died of excruciating brain cancer. I suggested that it maybe he connected suffering with his wonderful and meaningful life.
McCain was given a book when he returned home from Vietnam called “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Dr. Viktor Frankl. He was a neurologist and psychiatrist from Vienna, Austria and a prisoner and survivor of Auschwitz. The first half of the book deals in detail with his subhuman, brutal experience in the camps. Along with thousands of others, Frankl observed the qualities of those who survived, including himself. The second half explains the human will for life to have meaning.
McCain quoted Frankel, “‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,’ he wrote, ‘the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’ ‘Frankl’s observation has long had great meaning for me. I wasn’t familiar with it when I served in Vietnam. But after I came home it helped me come to terms with my experiences there.’”
John McCain could move on and was determined to do what was right.
Case in point, at a political event in his campaign for presidency, a disgruntled older woman asked to speak to McCain. She stated that “Obama is an Arab.” McCain quickly took the mic back and said, “No, ma’am,” shaking his head and taking the microphone from her. “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.” This testifies to his sense of justice.
Another virtue was his ability to admit his mistakes. In 2017, he chastised the decision to refuse discrediting flying the confederate flag in the state Capital. This was to get votes in South Carolina’s 2000 GOP primary. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in.
He also acknowledged later the mistake of choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. Though, he did not speak disparagingly about her at that time. In fact, I’m thinking he knew he would lose because of her small-minded thinking. McCain shouldered the blame. Which is why she was not invited to the funeral, nor our current President either.
Right now, we are living in a contentiously divided country. Many of us suffer from the feeling that there is no middle ground, no agreement and no civility. In McCain’s letter to America before he died, he said, “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all corners of the globe.”
As a student of history, McCain was rightfully concerned about the horror humanity is capable of. He was warning us before he died.
McCain and Frankl would both agree, we are destined to find meaning, no matter the circumstances.
Lastly and with a touch of irony, John McCain orchestrated his entire funeral. He picked the speakers; good friend Joe Lieberman and two Presidents he ran against and lost, George Bush, and Barak Obama. Obama, who had his citizenship challenged by Trump, spoke eloquently about sharp differences between John and him. They would meet many times however and wrestle with issues, a truly civil discourse. By asking the former Presidents to speak, we could hear McCain’s voice.
This country has lost a hero, and this comes from me, a life-long Democrat. May his memory be a blessing and an incentive for civility and virtuosity. May he continue to inspire others to be morally good and stick up for what is right and true for this country.