The Legacy of a President
This week, the nation mourned the death and celebrated the life of George H. W. Bush. President Bush was a decorated war hero who served as a congressman, an ambassador, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Vice President of the United States, then the 41st President. He is remembered for a 73-year love affair with his wife, Barbara Bush and for being an exceptional father. He loved golfing and the wide-open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. President Bush was a dedicated and accomplished Statesman, yet, what stands out most in the wake of his death is his attention to the personal, especially in the form of handwritten notes.
It was President George H. W. Bush who left the first handwritten note to his predecessor in the Oval Office, a tradition that each President since him has honored. In his eulogy, his son, President George W. Bush estimated that there are “thousands of handwritten notes encouraging, or sympathizing, or thanking his friends and acquaintances.” On NBC’s Today Show, Al Roker remembered receiving one such note after he spoke at the invitation of Barbara Bush, and New York Times opinion writer, Maureen Dowd, described “decades of correspondence” with the former President. Remarkable. George H. W. Bush was the President of the United States. He and Barbara Bush raised five children. He was a busy man; a man whose accomplishments have filled pages of books and hours of television coverage, yet somehow he found the time – he prioritized the time – for personal notes.
Too often these days, when we ask one another that simple human question, ‘How are you?’ the answer is, busy. We text thank you notes and post words of support and sympathy on social media. One dear friend of mine said, if the road to hell is paved with unwritten thank you notes, I am walking a dangerous path. I still carry guilt over my own unwritten notes – guilt because I know better. I know how much this kindness means through years of receiving such notes. I have beautiful handwritten notes from both of my grandmothers and a box full of notes from fifteen years of ministry. The congregation I served in Philadelphia continues to send my daughters birthday cards, and in the last month, both of my older daughters have received notes from members of West Raleigh. This year the Stewardship Committee is writing thank you notes to each person or family who made a pledge toward the 2019 Budget. I know this matters, yet so often, too often, my own notes go unwritten. President George H. W. Bush had every reason in the world not to stop, to notice, to write (he was the leader of the free world). Yet, he prioritized the personal, the human, the handwritten note. With all of his accomplishments, the world will remember him most for this kindness; for it was this kindness, this kind of attention to the personal, these thousands of notes, that made the world a better place. Remarkable to think about, isn’t it?