“I’ve been through worse.”
As we all know by now, Arizona Senator John McCain was diagnosed this week with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Ironically, this is the same disease that felled to last person known as the “Lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy.
I stopped after hearing the news to reread McCain’s account of his time as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. His courage and integrity through life threatening injuries and torture seems something from another time, and indeed it was. He almost broke down at one point, but held on through five years of abuse and torture.
As the son of the Admiral over the Pacific Fleet, McCain could have avoided combat like another who ran for and was elected President. The North Vietnamese offered to release him because of his father’s position, but he refused to leave because there were others who had been held longer.
He still walks with a limp as a result of his injuries, but he held no malice against the nation that held him. In fact, McCain was instrumental in the normalization of relations between our countries.
Our current president insulted McCain in 2015, saying, “He is no hero…I prefer people who weren’t captured.” McCain did not respond publicly, to his credit and as seems his style. I have read that some of his Senate colleagues aren’t fond of McCain because he speaks his mind and heart to anyone, which can be harsh and impolitic. Unlike our present president though, he makes sure he knows what he is talking about.
I wrote a previous post about another hero of a different type and persuasion, John Lewis. What they both seem to share is an uncanny ability to turn the other cheek and to rise above the hatred they have every right to feel. That kind of humility in leadership was once more common.
Post Script: John McCain returned to the Senate bearing a scar from his recent surgery in time for its health care debate. He voted in favor of proceeding through debate, but ultimately voted against the final measure apparently because he did not agree with some of the terms and did not trust the assurances given him that the Senate would be able to vote again once the House had acted. It seems perhaps that he believed there is room for integrity, even in sausage-making.
As an additional note, John McCain died on August 25. He asked that his grave say that “He served his country.” As touched on in this tribute, he was not a perfect man, but then none of us are. He was by any standard a hero. He died nine years to the day of the same disease that took the life of Ted Kennedy, who too had his flaws. Heroes need not look alike nor believe the same things to deserve our thanks.