All good people should grieve when decency dies
Every day I meet professed Christians treating LGBT people like garbage and trying to convince me that God is making them do it.
Whenever someone of character leaves this planet, the rest of us should mourn that loss, because the attrition leaves us all worse in its wake. As a tribe of connected people, we realize we are a bit lesser now, because those who have died have taken something precious with them to whatever lies beyond the last breath we take here: they have taken their specific humanity.
Though there’s a great deal I vehemently disagreed with John McCain on, in matters of both policy and party, It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that his departure leaves this place with a deficit of decency, in a time when it is already in very short supply.
Even when our positions were diametrically opposed, he still appeared to be a very human human being, trying his damnedest to do the right thing even when the answer to what the right thing was proving elusive, even when I felt he chose poorly, even when he seemed anything but right.
Senator McCain’s flaws and failing and blind spots were never difficult to see with objective eyes, but these things somehow never obscured his humanity, never made you forget the man beneath it all. This is no small feat, in a season of American politics where we all rush to dehumanize, and in the process — have a tendency to be less than human.
I think that’s why there has been nonpartisan grieving in the wake of his passing, in a community normally defined by division. It’s why former Presidents and previous legislative adversaries spoke eloquently about John McCain: not because they agreed with him, but because they recognized that this world, already low on decent people — feels like it’s down one more.
As I watched McCain’s memorial service yesterday (as with some of the best funerals) life surprisingly and defiantly showed up in the face of death. Not unlike this country in the wake of 9/11, unity seemed to briefly return. It felt like mutual respect had been resurrected in America, if only for a few hours. Hope somehow felt tangible again, even in a time set aside for grieving.
It’s no small coincidence that this brief moment of national renewal happened in the physical absence of the current President. His non-presence was profound and powerful — reminding us how toxic America has become since he arrived, and how we are better off, more compassionate, and far closer to our shared greatness when not continually goaded into bitterness or exposed to ranting.
Supporters of this President will tell you that everyone at Senator McCain’s memorial service and all those expressing kindness this week, have just been “politically correct;” that it was all a symptom of their weaknesses and their inability to “tell it like it is.”
I think it was far more than that. It was a group of Americans from both sides of the political aisle, tired of enmity, burdened for the common good, telling you that we can’t afford to lose our souls. They were sending a message to the ghost of an excluded President, that we will not become what he would have us become.
Right now, I and many others could highlight John McCain’s voting record, the legislation he supported that we opposed, and the decisions he made that disappointed or outraged us — but the truth is, those things need to yield to the space created by his absence — in his party, in our Government, in our nation as a whole.
More importantly, we need to recognize what his funeral made us feel.
If but for a moment, people were decent to each other, treated one other with simple humanity — and we were better for it; not perfect by a million miles — but a few steps closer than we’ve been in at least two years.
And we need to keep walking in that direction.
In a time in our national history where filth flows freely like a polluted water main, from the top and into our entire system — we need to push hard upstream.
America caught a brief glimpse of its best self this weekend, and we need to remember how beautiful we can be.
We can’t allow decency to die — that’s where our greatness lives.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com