Like most Americans I have been reflecting on the life and legacy of John McCain since his death two days ago. I have always admired the Senator, especially for his courage and heroism as a Vietnam POW.
I am reading his books, his own assessments regarding himself and his life: his 1991 memoirs, Faith of My Fathers and then his recent book, written just before his death, The Restless Wave. Both books are well written, engaging, inspiring and, in some cases, prophetic.
The first opens with words from the hymn, “Faith of Our Fathers.” In the second he states, “What God and good luck provide we must accept with gratitude. Our time is our time. It’s up to us to make the most of it, make it amount to more than the sum of our days.”
What stands out in my mind regarding John McCain is his decency, his respect for other people, even his adversaries. On Memorial Day 1993, he returned to Hanoi, the place where he had been imprisoned and tortured. Over the next two years he gave leadership that resulted in normalized relations with Vietnam. Vietnam’s foreign minister said, “It was he who took the lead to significantly heal the wounds of war.”
I remember that moment during his 2008 campaign for the Presidency. He was speaking in a high school near Minneapolis, taking questions from the audience. A woman was handed the microphone. She said, “I do not believe in, I can’t trust Obama. I’ve read about him and he’s not a … he’s an Arab.”
McCain quickly reached for the mike and corrected her. “No ma’am.” He said, “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.” When others tried to label Obama as a terrorist and a Muslim, McCain stated, “He is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as President of the United States.”
At Senator McCain’s request, Presidents Obama and George W. Bush are scheduled to speak at his funeral.
Even more than his legendary heroism as a POW for 5 years in Vietnam, McCain’s most important legacy might well be his commitment to decency, respect, honesty, integrity and humility, character qualities that can guide us to a better future.
These are the Christian qualities demonstrated by Jesus toward the poor, the outcast and His own accusers, including the very soldiers who crucified Him. They are the qualities exhorted by the Apostle Paul who challenged believers “to be ready for every good deed; to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” (Titus 3:1-2).