Winning not always apparent

By : 
Reflections from my Notebook

There are a lot of divisions in America today as the gulf seems to be widening between people on different sides. One of the many divisions that has made a recent impact on our society is between winners, or at least people who consider themselves winners, and losers, again, often determined by people who consider themselves winners.

A couple weeks ago, some of the newspapers that make up the Bluff Country Newspaper Group had a different kind of letter to the editor that was about the writer’s deceased father, but also concerned “our country, our present ideals,” wrote Joanne Griffin of Spring Grove. Her father, a farmer his entire life, always shared the excess in his garden with family, but after his death, Griffin discovered he shared it with many other people, too.

It wasn’t just garden produce, though. He lent money to a worker, fed a poor family with regular deliveries of food and helped many other people quietly without even his family members realizing. The family members found out after his death when people came up to them to express gratitude, one even saying she still offered prayers to him every night.

The letter-writer contrasted that with a neighbor who attended school with her father, farmed near him and ended up owning more land and having more money in the bank, none of which he shared, by the end of his life.

“The present mindset of this country would declare the neighbor the clear winner at life based on his larger net worth, and the present mindset of this country would declare my father the loser, too soft to win, but I ask you: how many people do you think are thanking that neighbor in their prayers as they lie down to sleep at night? Between them, who really died the richer man?” wrote Griffin.

Her letter came out just prior to the death of Sen. John McCain. The late senator’s funeral captured the attention of the entire nation, providing people with many of the same lessons Griffin highlighted in her letter.

McCain, a prisoner of war for many years, was captured by the North Vietnamese, which our current president stated during the presidential primary campaign was not the actions of a war hero. McCain also lost two presidential elections, one in the primary and another in the general election.

In today’s social accounting, he would be considered a loser.

Yet, the political world, encompassing all viewpoints, gathered at his funeral to honor the war hero and American patriot who showed principled leadership and honesty throughout his life. Two former presidents, one of each party, spoke at his funeral and another sat in the front row. Others, many famous, others unknown, honored him for his integrity and spirit during the week-long memorial.

McCain also showed that perhaps winning isn’t what we thought it was.

Winners are thought to be people who do anything to advance the team, which in politics is the party. Yet, McCain was at times a maverick, irritating other Republicans who depended on his vote to get things done for the good of the party.

McCain showed the courage of a winner, refusing early release when it was offered as a propaganda strategy when the North Vietnamese learned his father was a Navy admiral. McCain told them he would only go if those captured before him were released.

Yet, the brave naval aviator who survived years of torture and embraced battles in politics also spoke openly about his mistakes, candidly admitting what he did wrong and expressing regret for what he wished he had done differently. In today’s world of “never apologize,” those are traits of someone soft, a loser.

McCain often admitted to crowds at his rallies that he was a flawed human being. He knew, that when really tested, any human, including the bravest, may fail.

For example, he originally called the Confederate flag a symbol of racism and slavery, but shifted to saying he could understand both sides of the issue. Later, he wrote, “I had not been just dishonest. I had been a coward, and I had severed my own interests from my country’s. That was what made the lie unforgivable. All my heroes, fictional and real, would have been ashamed of me.”

His public displays of self-awareness, even self-criticism, are uncommon in politics. There is no upside to this behavior, except to become relatable as a real human being, behavior that is foreign to many politicians who emphasize pragmatism over idealism.

In a posthumous statement he said, “I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.”

His love of America, which overshadowed any pragmatic political points he could have made, definitely weighed in his favor as McCain was given a hero’s farewell to the adoration of millions.

McCain may never have attained the highest office in the country and the area farmer may not have amassed great riches, but the two will be remembered as winners who followed their ideals even if that idealism cost them social status.