I never voted for President George H. W. Bush nor any of his relatives — and probably never would, left-leaner that I am. But his death the other day at 94 was, in a way, one more gift to the nation after a lifetime of public service: It reminded us of how a leader should comport him or herself, and as many commentators are expressing today, presents a truly stark contrast to what we’re currently witnessing. And not only in the office of the current president, but throughout public and private life.
I am sorry I ridiculed our 41st president when he expressed amazement at his first encounter with a supermarket conveyor belt moving shoppers’ selections toward the cashier or when his handlers told him he should do some clothes shopping to demonstrate how consumers could help the then-ailing economy. I laughed along with the rest of the nation when he emerged from the store with nothing but a single pair of socks. Of course, this man whose life was privileged even before he entered public life, had never done his own grocery or clothes shopping. We should have cut him some slack.
We all need to learn to put ourselves in another’s shoes and think for a moment before lashing out, whether in jest or in anger. As someone trying hard not to let my advancing age be too obvious while the changing world catapults ahead of me, I know I need to keep my mouth shut until I have an inkling of what I’m speaking about.
Case in point: When my (younger) brother, the computer science guru, mentioned a “nifty new tool” that showed up as he was composing an email to me, I grumbled that I’d already encountered that “nifty tool” and sacrificed several minutes of my diminishing time on earth trying to figure out how to get it off the screen. I passed along my contention that continually “upgrading” computer software along with other changes in everyday life (popular music, television personalities, slang expressions) is part of an ongoing plot to show old people it’s time to think about moving along.
But almost immediately I was reminded of an elderly (probably younger than I am now) aunt in New Jersey asking me if I planned to do the newly allowed “right turn on red” driving practice. Having just moved back from California where that was a long-accepted procedure designed to keep traffic moving, I scoffed: “Of course!” “I’m not,” she said. “Then,” I thought but did not say out loud, “You’re going to have a lot of angry drivers behind you leaning on their car horns and otherwise exhibiting their displeasure at the delay you are causing them.”
(How did I get from trying to say nice things about George H. W. to imagining angry New Jersey drivers’ expletives? I don’t know; it’s a gift of old age. “Reel it back in to the subject,” one of my daughters would say.)
Reading and watching coverage of the ceremonies surrounding the elder George Bush’s death brought a new appreciation for the man whose New York Times front page article was headed “A Genial Force in American Politics.” Inside that same Sunday issue a special section with copy by Adam Nagourney elaborates on the “geniality” theme with a headline reading “A Genial President Who Guided the Nation to the End of the Cold War.” A lot of American history represented in those 94 years.
Photos: azfamily.com; pbs.org