Saturday’s death of John McCain marks the close of a long and remarkable life. The Arizona senator and famed Vietnam war hero was a committed public servant who honorably served his country over the course of the past six decades.
The senator’s reputation as a “maverick” resulted in political sparring from time to time, especially within his own Republican party, and even within our own circle of social conservatism. But despite his sometimes unpopular positions, Senator McCain engaged his opposition or detractors with good manners and good taste. He was a gentleman, and I appreciated the way he conducted himself.
There will be time to judge the Arizona senator’s record and legacy. These next few days are a time to honor and give thanks for the man who was John McCain and pay tribute to his service.
You may have read news reports that Senator McCain’s mother, Roberta, is still living. She is 106 and by all accounts, remains spry and engaged. “She outlived her 81-year-old son,” said a family friend. That tells you a lot. But it’s a tough blow to bury your child.”
The McCain’s were a Navy family with John’s father serving as a commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific during the Vietnam War. In an interview, Senator McCain reflected on how difficult it was on his father to have to order the bombing of Hanoi in 1972 – all the while knowing his son was a prisoner in that same city.
“Every single night he (John’s father) prayed on his knees,” said Roberta. “And I have … a prayer book of his, an Episcopal prayer book where, you know, your hand finally will just be oil, and wear the paper out, those papers are just worn out.”
Of course, Senator McCain survived his five plus year captivity and returned to serve out his naval career. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 in the state of Arizona and the Senate in 1986, where he served until his death this past Saturday.
Senator McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis afforded him the opportunity to reflect on his life and express his thoughts in the most personal of ways. The following reflection from his memoir is particularly moving:
“I leave behind a loving wife, who is devoted to protecting the world’s most vulnerable, and seven great kids, who grew up to be fine men and women,” he wrote. “I wish I had spent more time in their company. But I know they will go on to make their time count, and be of useful service to their beliefs, and to their fellow human beings. Their love for me and mine for them is the last strength I have.”
“What an ingrate I would be to curse the fate that concludes the blessed life I’ve led. I prefer to give thanks for those blessings, and my love to the people who blessed me with theirs. The bell tolls for me. I knew it would. So I tried, as best I could, to stay a ‘part of the main.‘ I hope those who mourn my passing, and even those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued service is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.”
Somebody once said that funerals should compel us to ponder our own mortality and evaluate not only the days we’ve lived – but also the time we have left. In Senator McCain’s parting words, we find the familiar refrain that has become almost a cliché: he wishes he had spent more time with his family – a difficult balance, especially when you’re serving in Washington, D.C., yet representing the people of your home state several thousand miles away.
Where are you today on the major questions of life? If you were to receive a fatal diagnosis this week, would you live differently than you have been living? Are you spending enough time with the people who mean the most to you? Remember, even a long life passes quickly.
Please join me in thanking the Lord for the life and career of Senator and American patriot John McCain – and let us remember his family and loved ones in our prayers as they prepare to lay their husband, father and friend to rest this coming weekend at the Naval Academy.