There are innumerable qualities to your life, Senator John McCain, worthy of tribute. I may have disagreed with many of your policy positions, but in a day when we are so bereft of leaders with character, your life of service rises far above partisan issues and elevates you to someone worthy of respect and praise—from your sacrifice as a POW during the Vietnam War to your role as a principled maverick in the US Senate; from your gracious defense of Barack Obama in the midst of a tight presidential race to your playful sparring with reporters. Your larger-than-life persona is nothing short of inspirational.
There is much to admire, but one measure of your life holds me especially in awe, and it is an attribute toward which we all can strive: your deep and passionate gratitude for life.
It is this zest for living that, I believe, sustained you through some of the most difficult emotional and physical challenges anyone could experience. You can’t endure five and a half years of torture unless your life is rooted in thanksgiving. You can’t stand up to the pressures of a society devolving into Trumpian Narcissism without a foundation of gratitude for life itself. You can’t say laudable things about your opponent in the midst of a tight presidential race without first believing that you have been generously blessed and so it is your duty to be generous to others.
And, in the summer of 2017, shortly after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, an especially aggressive brain cancer, your words continued to be steeped in gratitude as you told Leslie Stahl on Sixty Minutes, “I am so grateful. Every night when I go to sleep, I am just filled with gratitude.”
You stayed active in the world of politics until the very end and even in your farewell message, delivered posthumously by long-time friend and former aid Rick Davis, your closing words chided us to be our best selves: “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”
I was in Nova Scotia the day you died, surrounded by nature and far from the headlines that have so poisoned us in recent days. The natural world–deep blues of the ocean, rich greens of the forest, the gentle spirit of Nova Scotians–reminded me again of how we should live our lives–filled with gratitude for all that has been and for a promise of what is still to come.
So deficient are we right now that I wonder who will claim the spirit of John McCain and continue your legacy. But your concluding message gave verbal assent to the ever-present twinkle in your eyes. Brimming with optimism, your final words affirmed, “Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.”
Echoing your optimism, I await with hope and confidence that someone will emerge to carry your torch. But until the time that your successor becomes evident, I am grateful to you, Senator McCain, for showing us the very best of what it means to be human in these perilous times. Thank you, sir.