Late last night as I was brushing my teeth, I scrolled through Twitter to find John McCain’s final address to the American public being read by McCain's friend Rick Davis on NBC. It was his farewell speech, really, after decades of public service in Washington and grueling years of service to his country abroad.
I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I watched Davis, who was reading Senator McCain’s comments, periodically stop to catch his breath, swallow hard, clear his throat, and soldier on to convey his friend's letter from behind a podium in a room full of reporters and cameras. The speech itself was moving, of course, and so inspirational, but more than that, I was struck by thinking about what Davis' relationship to McCain must have been.
For as much as I differed politically from time to time with John McCain, there weren’t moments that made me doubt his code of honor. I never looked at him and thought, “That guy seems slippery,” or “I don’t know if I trust him.” He was a flawed man; a man who’d made mistakes both personally and politically throughout his life. But for my money, he was quick to acknowledge those mistakes, and to set about making them as right as he could in the cases they could be corrected.
I imagined the influence a person like that could have on his younger staff members or protégés. On the people with whom he worked. I sat thinking about what it must have been like to bear witness to that kind of strong, steady moral compass on a daily basis. What it must have been like to talk with McCain before he took the floor in the Senate to cast a bold and controversial “no” vote, one of only three in his party, to repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act. How it must have felt when the decision was made that he’d discontinue treatment and, ultimately, that his life would soon be ending.
Davis read the words of his friend carefully. You could see in his face the determination to get it right. You could feel the tension and the emotion overtake him every now and again, and then feel him straighten up and remember how important his duty was to impart these words faithfully. Maybe McCain had even asked him personally to be the one that read them aloud. What a task.
The thing is, you don’t get to be remembered with the kind of down-to-your-bones, read-every-word-with-utmost-tenderness reverence unless you’re the sort of person that people revere. We all have those people in our lives. You might be thinking of one right now. A person that you hold in such high esteem that it would make your life to know they thought something of you.
Very progressive people might look at McCain and think they have little in common with him, but I see so much that is shared between McCain and even the most left-leaning Democrat. For Senator McCain, honor, duty, loyalty, and country came before almost anything else. The way in which he lived his life celebrated these ideals in an open-hearted, passionate, unapologetic way. He felt his feelings right out in the open for everyone to see. There was no shame for him in choking up, in believing in something, in hoping beyond hope, in sacrifice before self. It’s not just the ideals themselves that made him unforgettable; rather, it’s the way he believed in those ideals. It’s the way he threw himself at them.
That sort of unabashed, almost (in the very best way) child-like adherence to a system of values is something I saw in him and see in my most progressive friends. His gift is that he allowed us into both his head and his heart in a blindingly earnest and peerless way. He named what he care about right out loud for everyone to hear, apparent for everyone’s judgments, nakedly and without reservation. He seemed to be a person to lived his life, as cringe-worthy as the phrase is, right “out loud.”
After I watched McCain’s final statement, tears brimming in my eyes, I continued scrolling through the thread to see people’s reactions. Immediately after, I saw a photo of President Trump taken by a press corps photographer. He was asked to comment on McCain’s legacy, and he sat, cross-armed, silent.
I don’t often comment on President Trump’s choices because I don’t find them worthy of commentary. I am a bringer of the positive as much as I can help it, and I don’t find it productive to dissect him.
But this, for what it’s worth, I want to say:
How safe and cowardly it can be to close yourself up, to not allow anyone in, to connect with no one and for no one to know what your code of ethics is. There is no risk in a life lived that way because there is nothing to lose. People can't respect you if they don't know you, and they can't know you unless you tell them who you are.
I guess my point here is that the world we live in is encouraging us all to pick our sides of the battle lines and hunker down, cross our arms, and go tight-lipped when met with issues or people with whom we don't agree. But in Senator McCain, we have another model of life: do the very very best you can every chance you get. When you're wrong, figure it out and fix it for next time. Don't let the pressures of people you're "supposed" to fall in line with keep you from standing up for your principles.
It is not corny to be passionate. It's not weak to say what it is you stand for. It's inspirational. It's strong.
So here is what I'm for:
I'm for us all leaning into our identity as Americans. I'm for working hard to change what we don't like about the way things are going. I'm for character. I'm for big-eyed, seemingly silly and naive levels of optimism and positivity. I'm for listening more than we talk (God help me with this one). I'm for keeping your word. I'm for laughter. I'm for family. I'm for empathy. I'm for the good in the world. I'm for God. I'm for hope.
And on days when I forget what I'm for, or when I feel like maybe it's silly to believe in what it is I believe in, I'm going to try and remember that a military captain who should've been hardened by life cracked his heart open so we could all look inside.
That's a life worth looking up to.