I should have included this in my last post.
Readers might be surprised to learn that I’m not a huge fan of President Reagan. In my view, his presidency diminished our country in many, many ways. At times, the only White House official personage dispensing sensible advice was the astrologer, who was wisely pandering to Nancy Reagan’s more cautious instincts.
Yet on the day of the Challenger disaster, Reagan deployed an actor’s grace to comfort a grieving nation.
His speech that day concluded:
On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, ‘He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.’ Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.
My daughter and I recently watched a poignant American Experience which described Reagan’s brave, final struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Some of Reagan’s last intact memories concerned his heroism as a young lifeguard, putting a notch in a log for every person he rescued at the beach.
Now I can’t say any unkind words about Reagan within earshot of my sweet daughter, who mainly knows our 40th president as a gentle old man who bravely undertook his own final journey, waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of earth.
President Reagan would be 100 years old this February 6. I won’t particularly mark the occasion. If my daughter mentions it, I’ll keep some of the less kind memories to myself. Instead, I will just note this simple moment of grace, a high point of his presidency.