Whatever anyone may feel about the Reagan presidency, we came together as a nation Friday to say our final good-byes to America’s 40th president in a ceremony that celebrated his life, his patriotism, his tenderness and forcefulness, his home-spun humor and his achievements as a national and world leader.
Television once again delivered to us the spectacle of the state funeral against the background of the capital, replete with flags and honor guards, the solemn setting of the Washington National Cathedral, the simple, flag-draped casket, four former U.S. presidents, world dignitaries, Washington’s elite and family members and friends assembled to honor Reagan’s memory.
We are left with many memories of the day:
n Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whom Reagan nominated as the first woman to serve on the high court, reading from the cathedral’s pulpit John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon that inspired the late president to describe America as a shining “city upon a hill;”
n Former President George Bush, his voice faltering briefly, saying Reagan was beloved because he was “strong and gentle;”
n The sight of four former U.S. presidents — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and the elder Bush, such world leaders as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Britain’s former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, a close friend of the late president; Britain’s Prince Charles and that nation’s current prime minister, Tony Blair, among the many guests filling the cathedral.
n The chorus and orchestra playing its solemn and patriotic hymns, the tenor singing “Amazing Grace,” the measured cadences of the military pall bearers, the haunting sound of the cathedral bells.
But perhaps the most moving and haunting memory of this day was the late president’s wife, Nancy, dressed in simple black, small and fragile, tenderly kissing and smoothing the flag draped over the casket and seeming to say a few final words to her husband, for whom she lovingly cared the last years of his life while he suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.
That Americans still fondly remember and love this president, who rekindled national pride in so many citizens, 10 years after he left office was evidenced in the sheer numbers of people who waited patiently for hours both in Southern California and Washington, D.C., just to file past his casket. We will long remember the faces of these people, young and old, of many different nationalities and ethnic roots, as they paused briefly to pay their last respects.
Many brought their young children — and why not? The living history they were a part of will stay in their memories for the rest of their lives. Perhaps in years to come those memories will help kindle a pride in our nation not unlike the pride Reagan himself kindled while he sat in the Oval Office. Perhaps, that is the Reagan legacy, that by which he will always be remembered.