There’s not much that can be said after the events last week celebrating the life of Ronald Reagan, other than “Wow!” The processions, the dignitaries, the bands, the military and the memories all fit together perfectly.
There were a few protesters, as could be expected. At first it struck me as repugnant, the very idea of protesting during a funeral, but then the optimism and wit that filled Reagan spilled over and softened my opinion. It occurred to me that, if Ronald Reagan was told that there were a few protesters near his funeral, he’d have said something along the line of, “Well, I was hoping that everybody would protest my passing.”
The events were all finely tuned and respectful, but, sometimes, it’s the quiet moments that really bring it home. Last Thursday night, I was transfixed for well over an hour by what, in theory, should have been incredibly boring television. It was everything but.
C-Span was airing coverage of people silently filing past President Reagan’s flag draped casket. That’s it. No bands, no marching, no dignitaries, no commentary, no sound – and yet it was the fullest, most interesting and memorable programming I’ve ever witnessed.
The scene was eerily silent, but the respect displayed by the military guards and those slowly walking by was deafening. There was not a peep to be heard. I was awestruck by the utter stealth of the continuous stream of thousands and thousands. A pin drop would have sounded like a firecracker. Somehow, even children knew to be quiet, which is a magical atmosphere indeed, and one I’d thought impossible until that evening.
But that was Reagan – the successful combination of a reach for the seemingly unattainable, with the pursuit of goals that may have been deemed as unrealistic, was his recipe for whipping up a fresh batch of America.
During all the events, the media, of course, were there, and usually very gracious. For many in the media, the respect on display was genuine, but it obviously pained some to the core to have to carry through with the “when in Rome …” approach to Reagan and his mourners. Chances are, this week, there are a lot of anchors, producers and writers who are having exorcisms performed, showering with a Brillo pad, and burning their clothes. Reagan would have gotten a kick out of it.
Why do we love Reagan so much? I first voted for him in 1984 (a small part of the reason I did is that I didn’t want to be known for the rest of my life as, “The guy who voted for Mondale”). Reagan got my vote because he came across, at least to me as an 18-year-old, as the father figure to a nation that had spent the better part of a decade as orphans, abandoned and left for dead by Vietnam, Watergate, malaise, stagflation and disco.
Sure, his presidential years had some setbacks. Reagan was shot for nothing more than some unbalanced bubble-wrap brained, uber-nerd’s attempt to impress Jodie Foster. Reagan lived, Hinckley was sent off to Our Lady of Swatting at Imaginary Flies Hospital for a few decades, and Foster never called him. Another evil plan thwarted by Reagan.
There were many setbacks, but even more successes, culminating with what Reagan will be remembered for best in the history books.
The Great Communicator headed up “Extreme Makeover: Eastern Bloc Edition,” and presided over the collapse of the Berlin Wall – a demolition which rippled right on through to Moscow, ending in the implosion of the Soviet Union. What Reagan left behind for us pales in comparison to what he didn’t leave behind.
Those who knew President Reagan said that he was impossible to dislike. His presence was disarming. When he was in a room, there was very little mean spiritedness or nasty bickering, and plenty of chuckles, stories and a heartfelt expression of Reagan’s opinion.
Reagan had been ill for 10 years, and all through that time, the nation was a simmering powder-keg of appreciation and adulation, just waiting to blow. Last week, it went off.
The throngs who lined the streets at the processions, 100,000 visitors to the library and Capitol Rotunda, those who waved flags and wiped tears, those who crowded churches across the nation in remembrance, and those who sat at home talking to their children about a great president, all made it a celebration to remember. Somewhere, Reagan was looking down, grinning and tipping his cowboy hat to us one more time.
Last week, we won one for The Gipper – and that’s all he ever asked. What a perfect farewell.
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