I have very mixed feelings about George H. W. Bush. I was not a fan of his presidency, and as friends have reminded me over the last few days, while he championed some very positive polices and was probably the statesman the world needed as the Soviet Union fell apart, I am also very aware of the wreckage, death and heartbreak that many of his other policies wrought on the world. If you wonder why so many people are fleeing Central America and coming to an America with a hostile president, bound and determined to keep them out, go back and review the history of the way that region was treated as “America’s Back Yard,” including coups, death squads, illegal arms sales to the Contras, all while Bush was CIA director, Vice-President and President of the United States. The upheaval in that region that goes on today is a direct result of policies he supported and set in motion, (not to mention what he did to the people of Panama and Iraq.) So, he was a much more complex and controversial president than the US media is letting on, these days.
But, I was also deeply moved by his funeral. A good Episcopalian, he planned it to a T, (that’s my understanding, anyway,) and as far as the church music went, the man had good taste. He obviously had a love of schmaltz as evidenced by the good old bombastic Lord’s Prayer and Michael W. Smith’s “Friends.” But, I couldn’t have picked better hymns, and watching his casket being carried out to “For All The Saints” (one of my all time favourites), was a moving experience.
Those who spoke for him also made it clear that he was a fine friend and father. Brian Mulrooney, (a Canadian Prime Minister I never supported either,) acquitted himself wonderfully, testifying to Bush’s statesmanship and friendship. Senator Allan Simspon was “the life of the party” attesting to what a fun loving man Bush was. And again, a faithful friend even when it was not politically wise for him to be so. George W. Bush, (a president whose policies I loathed only second to Trump’s) showed us the humanity of a son’s love for his father. And the pastor’s testimonial to Bush’s last moments made me hope that I might have such a loving group of people around me as I take my last breath.
The funeral was also an important piece of national ritual. I am a firm believer in the importance of ritual to give us moments of personal and communal reflection, as well as the power that ritual has to knit us together as a community, and in this case a national and world community. As far as this aspect is concerned, I think it was pitch perfect. But I’ve always been a sucker for a good High Church service.
So, while I will continue to advocate for a full accounting of his life, not just the “nice” parts, I find this to be a real lesson for me in Integral thinking and contemplation. Nothing in life is black and white. There is no single perspective on any moment in history. As an aspiring Integralist, I will use this as an opportunity to hold multiple, even conflicting perspectives in my mind and heart at the same time. I understand that Bush’s life is part of the evolutionary ebb and flow of history, in which polar opposites and stark differentiations are important so that the world can learn its lessons and can move on to a higher synthesis, still imperfect and full of suffering, but hopefully kinder and gentler in a way that Bush imperfectly, but probably sincerely aspired to throughout his life.
A little simplistic? Perhaps, but its a start in my attempt to rise above a unitary partisan view to something more integrally informed.