In the obituary of George H. W. Bush, The Washington Post provided this insight into the private life of the 41st President of the United States: “In 1988, Mr. Bush gave a list of the qualities he most cherished to Peggy Noonan, who wrote his speech accepting that year’s Republican presidential nomination. They were: ‘family, kids, grandkids, love, decency, honor, pride, tolerance, hope, kindness, loyalty, freedom, caring, heart, faith, service to country, fair (fair play), strength, healing, excellence. Mr. Bush viewed his family as part of his legacy. He was intensely proud of the sons who followed him into public service.”
Coincidentally, just a few days ago I came across rather serendipitously touching testimony to old age and family by Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania who served as the Attorney General of the United States under President Bush. His words are a gentle reminder, that as George H. W. Bush so firmly believed, family is the most important thing in life and the memories of time spent with family are life’s greatest treasure — but sometimes it takes advancing age to truly appreciate that truism:
“When I was growing up, the thought of someone aged seventy was coupled with images of incapacity and irrelevance. Having reached that age myself this year, I realize how inaccurate those images were. To be sure, we all, sooner or later, reach an age when we begin to slow down. But as the years advance, I find myself more appreciative of everyday joys, especially the companionship of those I love. In an ironic way, my capacity for true enjoyment seems to have deepened with age. The blessings of family and loved ones have always been particularly enriching. Memories of times spent with my wife, children, and grandchildren are among my most valued treasures. Simple events and conversations of the past increase in value as I recollect them in later years. How often my beloved wife of thirty-nine years and I reminisce about the exciting and challenging opportunities we have been granted. And how often we thank God for giving us each other to provide the balance and inspiration necessary to persevere when the going gets tough.
Four fine sons, two superb daughters-in-law, and now six grandchildren have been a special blessing to us. They assure that life is never dull. Our vicarious participations in their lives let us share in the fulfillment of every passing grade, each goal scored or starring role, each friendship cemented, and a succession of job opportunities and residential acquisitions and improvements. Our congratulations-and commiserations over inevitable disappointments have always been graciously received.
Such bonds are a two-way street. For my seventieth birthday, for example, my oldest son collected a list of “Greatest Hits: 70+ Memories of My Dad,” which he shared with all of us. Even the most dimly remembered of these events sprang to vivid reality with only a little prompting. Some were truly hilarious. And all contributed to a tapestry of remembrance more valuable than any tangible gift could be…
One of our sons has a disability; he has mental retardation. In many ways, he has contributed the most to my comprehension of the good that can evolve from nearly every situation. He possesses a kind of quiet dignity that, despite his limitations, serves as an inspiration to all who know him. And his own values are very much in order. Recently, when visiting with us, he and I went to the Washington zoo. We saw all the animals and laughed together at the antics of many of them. At the end of the excursion, I asked him what he had liked best about our experience, expecting a reply that took into account the unique characteristics of one or more of the animals we had seen. Instead, he responded, quite simply: “Being with you.”
What a precious gift God has given us in life. We all journey together and are sustained and strengthed by wonderful experiences such as these. In the final analysis, the deepest joys are indeed the simple ones and, as they accumulate over the years, we come to look forward to, rather than fear, the next successive milestone. May it ever be so!”
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For further reading: The Older the Fiddle, the Better the Tune: The Joys of Reaching a Certain Age by Willard Scott