One of my good high school friends buried both my parents. His father buried three of my four grandparents and his grandfather buried mine. They are the third and fourth generations of their family burying other members of other families. (The Irish way of death is nothing if not a family business at both ends.) A good undertaker is someone who can be there without getting in the way. The undertaker is omnipresent and yet nearly invisible, never present until needed. Then, their presence is nearly spectral. Their only job is to make sure things run in as efficient a manner as possible, and to do so with quiet humanity, so the family can go through the formal ritual of mourning without being swamped with extraneous details.
I was thinking on Tuesday that the president would be a terrific undertaker. First of all, he’s been proven to be very good at wakes and funerals. Second, he looks the part; I can envision him in the long black cashmere coat, wrangling cars into line for the drive to the cemetery. And last, and most important, he has a deep and abiding empathy. He carries his personal tragedies with great dignity, and employs them only when it is absolutely called for. On Tuesday, as they conducted a memorial service for Capitol Police Officer Billy Evans in the Rotunda, he deployed it in the gentlest way possible.
One of Evans’s daughters was fidgety, playing with a small replica of the Capitol dome. Fidgety kids are one of those extraneous details that great undertakers discreetly handle for The Family. The little girl dropped the toy on the floor. It bounced a little ways away from where she was sitting. The president instantly popped out of his chair, picked up the child’s toy, and handed it back to her, stopping to talk to her, too,
To compare this moment of humble humanity to anything having to do with the president’s predecessor is to cheapen it unforgivably. These are different species of homo sapiens, as different from each other as swans are from vultures. Kindness towards a child would seem to be a baseline indicator of civility and grace but, nonetheless, there it was, in front of god and the world. That it seemed so powerful is not just because of what it was, but because of all that it was not.
You Might Also Like