In a Week of Reflection, One Image Stood Out
By Doug Patton
June 14, 2004
In a week of reflection on the passing of President Ronald Reagan, when a thousand visual impressions flooded our minds with memories of his life and times, I found myself wondering what the man himself would have thought of all those images.
As a man who always put others first, I believe he would have tried to console those who mourned his passing. Just as he prayed for John Hinckley before he prayed for himself, I think Ronald Reagan would have sought to comfort the California woman holding the sign that read, “Our hearts are broken.”
“Don’t cry for me,” he might have told her. “My work here is done.
In response to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who waited in line through the night for the chance to stand silently for just a few seconds as the former president’s body lay in state, he might have blushed and said, “Thank you so much for coming…is all this fuss for me?”
To the poignant eulogies by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush, Reagan most likely would have said that during his two terms as president, he was only reflecting the greatness of America and her people.
He would have been humbled that Lady Thatcher, who became his great friend and ally, overcame her own health problems to fly to Washington and then on to California to honor the man with whom she had shared the world stage at a crucial moment in history. He would have been proud at the sight of his Nancy, the love of his life, still at his side after 52 years and willing, as always, to share him with a grateful nation.
He would have been amused at the sight of a snoozing Bill Clinton nodding off in the front row of the Washington Cathedral during the funeral. Reagan was, after all, the man who once joked that he had given orders to his staff to wake him in case of a national emergency—even during a cabinet meeting. As the nation grieved, the actions of a few small men spoke volumes about their petty motives. French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who were in the U.S. for the G-8 Summit, chose not to attend the funeral. Meanwhile, the editors at The New York Times tried their best to drive a wedge between Republicans by pointing out that Nancy Reagan believes in embryonic stem cell research. To all of them, I think the Gipper would have shaken his head and simply uttered that famous Reaganism, “There they go again.”
A cock of the head and that famous, “Well,” might have been all he could muster while listening to the loving words of the once-estranged children who had come home to memorialize their father at sunset in his final resting place. But the most remarkable moment of the entire week came on Thursday afternoon, and though it lasted only a few seconds, it captured the essence of Ronald Reagan’s mission as the leader of the free world. There, standing in the rotunda of the United States Capitol Building, hands folded and head bowed, was Mikhail Gorbachev. As Gorbachev lifted his head, he stepped forward and placed his hand on the American flag draped over the coffin of the man who had changed history by the force of his will, the charm of his demeanor and the truth of his convictions.