by Christine Sine
The death and remembrance of John McCain has taken centerstage for me this week as I suspect it has for many others not just here in the U.S but around the world. I have tremendous respect for this statesman and gentleman whose life and death have much to teach us in our current global climate of disruption, intolerance and at times vitriolic disturbance. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but he was humble enough to admit his mistakes and wise enough to learn from them. That was probably part of his appeal
Here are a few of the lessons I am still learning:
- Speak the truth at all times. One of my frustrations with living in the U.S. is that I find people often, out of a desire for you to like them, will say what they think you want to hear rather than the truth of what they really believe. John McCain, always seemed to speak the truth even when he knew it would alienate him from friends and colleagues.
- Listen to those with whom you disagree. I was amazed to hear that John McCain visited Barak Obama regularly during his presidency for a chat in the Oval Office. They didn’t always agree, or change each other’s minds but it sounds as though they listened with respect to what the other person said and were open to learning and changing based on what they heard.
- Treat people with different viewpoints with respect. To see a past Republican and Democratic president stand up and bear testimony to John McCain’s influence on their lives was very compelling. That he had friends on this calibre on both sides of the political divide was an incredible testimony to his integrity and respect for the equality of all people.
- Forgive and ask forgiveness. John McCain had a temper. He was often opinionated and strong minded, but he was willing to forgive and ask forgiveness when he recognized he was wrong or saw the need for reconciliation with those who had wronged him. That he could return to Vietnam after his incarceration and torture and develop friendships with people in that country is an incredible testimony to this.
- Maintain your passions until the end. John McCain’s passion for bipartisanship was evident until the very end. He orchestrated his own memorial, deliberately drawing together people from both sides of the political divide to bear testimony to his life. I suspect he hoped that these people would also be advocates for bipartisanship in the future.
As I think on the life of John McCain I am once more drawn back to the words of Parker Palmer, looking back on eight decades of life, in his latest book On the Brink of Everything:
For people like me, the notion that old age is a time to dial it down and play it safe is a cop-out. Those of us who are able should be tasing hell on behalf of whatever we care about. (25)
I think John McCain would say Amen to these words and I do too.
As I age I find myself becoming more passionate about injustice, inequality and abandonment of people at the margins. I am more passionate about moving towards my own freedom and wholeness, recognizing more than ever that it is out of embracing my own brokenness and seeing it as an integral part of my life that wholeness comes. At the same time, embracing how my brokenness has contributed to the brokenness of others and seeking forgiveness has enabled them to find that same freedom and wholeness.
Palmer goes on to say:
I no longer ask “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?”
The desire to “hang on” comes from a sense of scarcity and fear. The desire to “give myself” comes from a sense of abundance and generosity. That’s the kind of truth I want to wither into. (27)
What kind of truth do you want to “wither into”? What is the passion of your life, a passion that calls you beyond yourself to your concern for others? These are the questions I would like us all to reflect on as we remember the life and death of John McCain this week. May our lives burn with the same brightness as his did.