I watched Elizabeth Dole walk slowly down the aisle of the National Cathedral, her eyes full of sorrow and memory and the strength that human beings manage to call up in times of great loss. I thought of the day in 2004 when I followed my mother down that same aisle, a uniformed man supporting her with his arm as she too walked slowly, hesitantly. 

            The National Cathedral echoes. Footsteps echo; so do voices and muffled sobs. And so does history. The person lying in the coffin in front of gathered mourners is always someone who had a place on America’s stage, someone who is a part of our history — who influenced, inspired, and sometimes angered large swaths of the country. It is our tendency, thankfully, to set aside rancor and division at the time of a public figure’s passing and focus instead on what they got right.

            Bob Dole was a political presence at a time when politics was not dripping with hatred and vitriol, when members of Congress wouldn’t dream of making inflammatory, obscene comments about one another. When there was a civility to disagreements and a commonly shared goal of putting America’s welfare first.

            His daughter Robin read from a letter he composed at the end of his life: “As I make the final walk on my life’s journey, I do so without fear. Because I know that I will again not be walking alone. I know God will be walking with me.” It takes courage to have faith, especially when Death is inching closer. And that’s ultimately more important than politics.

            I met Bob Dole at my father’s first inauguration. It was a quick handshake and hello, but I remember the twinkle in his eyes that reminded me of my father and I remember him asking, “How are you?” as if he really wanted to know. I didn’t tell him, of course, that I felt terrified and intimidated by the life that now stretched out before me, that I felt a bit like I’d been taken hostage. I sat beside Elizabeth Dole at the luncheon after the Inaugural ceremony and she kept me busy with casual conversation and cheerful stories. I had the sense that she knew exactly how I felt and she was going to keep me above the water line. Life can still be fun seemed to be the message she was imparting. 

            On the morning of Bob Dole’s service, at a time in America when hatred and cruelty have become mainstream, I thought about how we need interludes like this. We need to look at a brave man’s life, whether you agreed with him or not, and remember what gratitude and appreciation feel like. Grief can do that if you let it – it can lift you above pettiness and rigid opinions into a more rarified air of kindness.

            A while after my father’s death, after the public memorials were done and we as family members were left to sit beside the calmer waters of our own personal grief, a friend spoke to me about how the country paused in the wake of his passing. How people gathered along freeways and streets to watch the motorcade go by. She said, “We needed that. We needed it as a country.”

            I echo the same sentiment about Bob Dole’s passing and his service today. We needed this.


  1. Tom Walsh says:

    Thoughtful and sobering. Yes, America needs to remember what it once was.

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