Friday, June 20, 2008

Tim Russert's Long Goodbye

The death of Tim Russert has been a hard blow for me, as I mentioned in my previous post. A friend of mine shares with me the penchant of having sometimes referred to Meet the Press as "our Sunday morning church," a commonality that bristles with irony if one knows the whole story. He called me up the other day and said, "Grant, we've lost our pastor." And so it seemed.

I've watched Meet the Press for decades and never did I sit choking back sobs like I did last Sunday. That apparently was true for many, resulting in a national mourning that seemed it would never end. Russert's farewell was like those usually reserved for presidents, not for the working press.

The media attention has been amazing to me, not just in duration but also in tone. I know they were dealing with one of their own and this one happened to have so many redeeming qualities that it seemed impossible, even irreverent, to harness the superlatives. It just seemed that they couldn't run out of good things to say. Political journalists get jaded and hard-bitten at times, but suddenly they all became dads and moms, wearing comfortable sweaters and a pair of slippers. They referred to their news bureaus as "families" and their colleagues as "godparents" and "dear friends." And on top of it all, as the memorial service ended with a rendition of "Over the Rainbow" a sure enough real rainbow parked itself over the NBC studios. This may become one of those urban legends, but for the moment I choose to suspend disbelief.

Some cynics are now beginning to question the coverage as overkill, something I've been expecting and even understand. Jack Shafer, editor at large of the online magazine Slate, wrote a controversial piece on Monday in which he referred to the media attention as a "canonization" of Russert. This led to a spirited discussion on NPR that revealed the strong feelings elicited by this man.

I suspect that this has as much to do with our culture as with Tim Russert. Of Russert it is said that he was competent and fair as a journalist, open and compassionate with his staff, loyal and caring to his friends, and loving and attentive to his family. These are virtues, wise and true, but why lionize such a man? Isn't that the way we all should be?

The answer, of course, is yes. The rest of the answer is that we are not.

I know that the major reason for my tears is not how badly I will miss his journalism (and I really, really will). I cried because I didn't have a dad like that. I really didn't have a dad at all, and the older I get the more I know how much I needed one.

I don't think my sons had a dad like that either. But I think they had a better one than I had, and I think their children will have better ones than they had. Big Russ, Tim, and Luke have inspired us by example to find a way.

Tim Russert didn't need this long farewell. But we did. I am grateful that the remarkable Russert family allowed us to borrow him for a few days, even in their grief, so that we could have Tim "for the whole hour."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert - Pursuing Truth

I suppose it is the nature of 21st century media that we build emotional connections with people we have never met. I have been experiencing that over the last few hours since hearing the tragic news of Tim Russert's death.

I was in my physician's waiting room, restlessly tapping my foot, when my phone vibrated, alerting me to a breaking news report. I read it on a two inch screen with dismay and shock. It seemed personal.

The tributes on the television tonight have been remarkable. His commitment to family, love of his dad and his son, got much of the respect from the hardened journalists and politicians who spoke of him throughout the evening.

These days I sometimes get asked about where I attend church. My answer, depending on who is asking, is to chuckle and say that I'm often at Meet the Press church. I don't mean to be disrespectful to religion. Not at all. But there is a measure of larger truth to what I'm saying there. That program has for 17 years been hosted by a man who, in addition to his love of family, understands history and culture and has a healthy respect for faith and patriotism. Every Sunday he looks across the table at our world's movers and shakers and respectfully but fearlessly asks the penetrating questions that need to be asked on behalf of us all.

In other words, he pursued the truth. At its best, when it is on message, that is what religion does. All churches should do so well as to have one such as this as their messenger.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Learnings from Ashley - Part 2 of 2

A few days ago I had some fun with this blog when I posted some reflections from the experience of caring for my granddaughter over a period of two months. It is easy to smile at Ashley's expressions or to cluck our tongues because of how cute she is. We love her innocence even in knowing that life will soon make it over into something else. But enough of that--for now we shall embrace the joy and allow it to lift our spirits and fill our hearts.

But there is something more to all of this than diaper stories. I am learning how a young child unwittingly provides us with a chance to peer deeply into our own souls and to discover things that might even transform us, but will at the very least cause us to ponder. Here are a few things I stumbled onto.

Born to be Ashley. When Ashley was in the womb the family used to talk about what she would look like. Those sonograms are pretty awesome, but once the genitalia issue was resolved it was difficult to determine much else about her features. And then she arrived. Our response was, "Of course, THAT is what she looks like. She's Ashley. She resembles....." (well, take your pick on that one--kind of depends on what branch of the family tree one hangs on). But this we knew--she's Ashley, looking exactly like she should, like we knew she would all along.

Born as a Person of Worth in the Sight of God. One of the centering principles of my life comes from my own faith tradition, in which it is proclaimed that all persons are of inestimable worth in the sight of God. This concept has profound implications for how we live our lives, conduct our relationships, and shape our political and economic priorities. I love this principle. Now comes Ashley to embody it.

Born Joyful. When Ashley was about two months old I found myself fascinated by her smiles, her laughter, and her joy. Where did this come from? What made something funny? I wrote about this a few months ago in a blog post I called "From Whence Cometh Joy?" I still marvel at it but Ashley has persuaded me that joy is birthed within, written on our inward parts. I don't know that I can defend this in College Anatomy 101, but it passes the Ashley test. Joy is in there somewhere, maybe swimming around with the intestines and the kidneys for all I know. So here's the deal. My little granddaughter has made it clear that her joy is something to be nurtured. We're going to help her with that. And don't anyone dare try to snuff it out.

Born to be a Healer. This is a little personal and perhaps a bit presumptuous but I claim it as something I learned from Ashley. Over the course of those weeks we spent together Ashley and I had some conversations. Our faces were just a few inches apart during these times. We looked into each others eyes while talking and, miracuously, she didn't divert hers. She kept her gaze focused as I told her some things she needed to know. But I also talked with her about some pain and loss that has come into my own life in recent years, largely of my own doing. When I was done talking she kept her gaze and then she did something remarkable. She gurgled forgiveness and her little hand wrapped around my finger and squeezed out a dose of redemption. I embraced the gift with tears.

Ashley is growing up in a difficult time. An unconscionable war is being waged in Iraq. Gasoline prices are spiraling upward at a record pace and the American economy is in trouble. It is a political season, one with some positive signs but also serious dangers. Ethnic, religious, and political divisions threaten our global culture.

Part of me wants to shelter her from all that. But another part of me knows she cannot be sheltered, indeed must not be. After all, she is the one who brings me the most hope, the most promise for a better day, the best reason to believe in the possibilities of tomorrow.

And a little child shall lead them...