The Last WASP President. The End of an Era. The Death of Civility.
Those were some of the headlines that came across my social media newsfeed on Nov. 30, when former President George Herbert Walker Bush died at age 94.
I would like to offer another headline: “The passing of a grown-up.”
You see, our nation’s 41st president governed in a time before Generation X came of age in the early 1990s. My generation’s political awakening coincided with the dawn of the Clinton era, the early days of the internet and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
When the elder Bush was president, my friends and I were middle-school students in Massachusetts with a superficial knowledge that he had been Ronald Reagan’s vice president and had trounced our governor in the 1988 presidential election.
President Bush was one of the adults in charge while we spent our days going to school, playing sports and doing homework. We weren’t old enough to drive, didn’t have any bills to pay and spent our afternoons listening to MC Hammer songs and playing basketball in the driveway.
We were kids.
Ask anyone from my generation what they remember most from the late President Bush’s single term in the White House, and most will probably share memories of social studies teachers showing them CNN’s live coverage of the first Gulf War.
“It feels like we’re almost talking about a vanished world,” CNN political commentator David Gergen said during a late-night segment as the deceased president’s flag-draped coffin was wheeled into the Capitol Rotunda.
In one sense, Gergen was right. The Washington, D.C., of the 1980s — when Republicans and Democrats in Congress could still share a drink without partisan rancor — is gone, replaced by a polarized city where rival politicians regularly insult each other on Twitter.
But one day, the current iteration of our nation’s capital, in all its dysfunctional, will also go the way of floppy disks, pagers and dot-matrix printers. Nothing lasts forever.
“For the world in its present form is passing away,” St. Paul wrote to those unruly Corinthians in the 1st century.
The Apostle to the Gentiles was prescient in knowing that even Imperial Rome would one day wither and die. What is strong and vibrant today is frail and diminished tomorrow.
Life is short.
“Seventy is the sum of our years, or 80, if we are strong; Most of them are toil and sorrow; they pass quickly, and we are gone,” the psalmist writes in Psalm 90.
I saw it almost fitting that President Bush died on the last day of November, after an entire month where we prayed for our dearly departed and the holy souls in purgatory. Death comes to us all, but it is not the end. The bonds of love and affection extend across space and time, even generations.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith,” St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews.
In his last conversation with his father, George W. Bush, our nation’s 43rd president, showed the hope that we as Christians have that our souls will be reunited in heaven as we all await the redemption of creation.
“Dad, I love you, I will see you on the other side,” the younger Bush said.
As reported by several media outlets, the elder Bush’s last words were, “I love you.”
Brian Fraga is an OSV Newsweekly contributing editor.