Over the weekend, the death of Senator John McCain prompted an outpouring of tributes from around the world. The senator from Arizona has been remembered by statesmen and colleagues for his level-headedness, his endurance as a prisoner of war, and his strong devotion to promoting international human rightss. But the best perspective on McCain’s life did not come after his death. It was written by McCain himself, published quietly in June as the final words of his book The Restless Wave.
In what amounts to closing remarks at the end of an adventurous life, McCain speaks to the work he left undone — mainly restoring a sense of balance and civility to our American discourse. And in its reflection, McCain’s goodbye letter to his fellow Americans acts a beautiful lesson to parents and children that the strength of America’s future will come from recognizing our human commonalities outweigh our political differences. Regardless of party affiliation, every parent should take a moment today to read the passage to their children.
It’s important to note that McCain wasn’t a centrist. He was a staunch conservative and his voting record reflects his conservatism. But he was also willing to listen and attempt to understand perspectives from Americans of all stripes. He also knew that he was fallible and writes that he hopes people will celebrate his “happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals.”
In acknowledging that imperfect service, McCain helps all of us, young and old, understand that the ideal is to work towards the founding ethos of America with is freedom for all. We won’t always get it right, McCain acknowledges in his farewell, but he stresses that it will be even harder to get it right if we fail to communicate respectfully with one another.
In the most moving passage McCain writes: “Whether we think each other right or wrong in our views on the issues of the day, we owe each other our respect, as long as our character merits respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, for all the rancorous debates that enliven and sometimes demean our politics, a mutual devotion to the ideals our nation was conceived to uphold, that all are created equal, and liberty and equal justice are the natural rights of all.”
Amen, and Godspeed, senator.