I went to stand for two hours in the line to pay my respects to the late Senator John McCain and I felt myself most deeply moved by the people in line with me. These diverse people were united by a deep respect for our American founding ideals of equal justice under law, tolerance, freedom, democracy, inclusion, all of which were the same American values for which John McClain put his life on the line and dedicated his life to serve. And it was a very diverse crowd.
I was brought to tears by the fact that immediately in front of me were two women in hijabs and immediately behind me were four men in Navy dress white uniforms. There was a man of east Indian descent in the uniform of a Marine sergeant major. There were two gay men, many Latino men and women, three young millennial men dressed for a video game convention, young women in high heels, several veterans of all the services and all the eras, single woman of all ages and dress, black people, Native Americans, people on crutches and in wheelchairs, couples, families, children. They were young, Jewish, Asian American, middle-aged, lesbian, Catholic, elderly, immigrants, businessmen, and people of every other group from which this country is comprised.
Something united them, something more than just being American, something more than just sharing the American ideals of this irreplaceable hero. It was gratitude. I could see it on their faces. These thousands of different Americans all knew that no matter what differences they may have had with John McCain, that he had personally served each individual one of them humbly and heroically. It was the most deeply moving. Or at least I thought so for the time being.
And then I saw him, a man in his late seventies, wearing a cap that said “USS Forrestal,” the same aircraft carrier on which John McCain had served and which had suffered the catastrophic fire that killed one hundred and thirty-four sailors, on the day that McCain said the he woke up a cocky pilot and went to bed a humble public servant. This man had been his shipmate. He had come to the lying-in-state for the same reason that John McCain had served his country. He had no choice. It was his duty.
It was why we all were there. It was why the body of John McCain was there.
We will not know the likes of John McCain again soon. I thought he was wrong on many policy points, but I recognized his commitment to our right to disagree with him. He put is life on the line for it. And I sense that in this moment perhaps the entire country is beginning to remember a little more clearly just what and whom he served, and why those values are what make America unique, and why she will always be great, as long as there are men and women who see our founding values as our duty.
(Gerald Weaver is the author of the novel, The First First Gentleman, London Wall Publishing. It is among other things a sly tribute to almost all the novels of Charles Dickens. His well-received first novel, Gospel Prism, was published in May 2015. Each of its twelve chapters paraphrases a great work, by Cervantes, Montaigne, Shakespeare, etc. Harold Bloom said it was “remarkable” and “charming but disturbing.” Perhaps the same could be said of this satire.)