The riderless horse, the turned-back boots in the stirrups, the caisson carry the flag-covered casket, the team of six black horses pulling it, the young soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, the lonely figure of the widow, all in black -- we don't see these things too often, and we remember them when we do. It doesn't seem like forty years since we watched the same scene unfold, when we could all watch it together for the first time in history, and just about all of us did.
We watched it again a decade later, when President Johnson died. It was stirring then, too, even though his one term was so ambiguously remembered: hated and hounded from office by those who opposed the war in Vietnam, yet recognized as a president whose brief tenure accomplished more for civil rights in America than that of any president before him.
And we are stirred once more. I agreed with very few of President Reagan's policies or actions -- actually, I can't think of even one -- but tears come to my eyes anyway, when I see these things: his devoted wife, his children -- I remember that they were embattled, sometimes, but all was long ago forgiven. The symbols of the nation: its military community bidding farewell to a Commander in Chief, the lying in state in our most important legislative hall. Most real news has stopped this week for while this national liturgy plays itself out to its end, at dusk today, in California.
In death, for sure, and even in old age or manifest frailty, much is forgiven. Everyone mourns the eminent dead. Their end signs off on a piece of our history; an era of our life is over, too, and there can no further history in it. It has already happened, and it is over. Most of us cannot yet sum up our lives; they aren't over yet. But as death approaches, we and those we touch can look back and think about what it all meant.
Who was I? What did I give to the world? What is better because I was here? There will be mixed reviews, I suspect, for most of us. We were wonderful, sometimes. And we made some terrible mistakes. We hope people remember us kindly.
But I hope they remember the whole of us, because I would very much like those who come after me to learn from my mistakes. I learned a whole lot from them myself, but I think there's still some juice left in them for other people.