My wife and I awoke to news that Congressman John Robert Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, had died in the night. An indefatigable warrior for racial equality and common decency, John Lewis had kept up his struggle through many adversities until cancer decided he’d given enough. Dignitaries and regular people from around the globe quickly responded with earnestly couched appreciation more than petty condolences. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany sent White House condolences by mid-morning; Trump, who was not at the White House, sent a briefer one in late morning: “Saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing. Melania and I send our prayers to he [sic] and his family.”
The White House flag had been lowered to half staff. (He’s learned some since Senator McCain’s death.) The content and timing of Trump’s condolence message compared to others was obvious. Trump had been offended by Lewis, I understand, not long after his November 2016 win. That got us to thinking about the vast differences between the two men, both in personal attributes and in how unlike the differences they made in their country and internationally.
One is driven by seeking and collecting personal grievances. One was driven by the race-related grievances of others.
One is frequently angry with and hurtfully demeaning of others. One was driven by unacknowledged systemic racism in America.
One has an extreme need for personal affirmation and recognition. One focused not on credit, but on relief of others’ suffering.
One was born on 3rd base, pretending he’d hit a home run. One began life literally in cotton fields, scratching for survival.
One is unconcerned about being truthful, just being believed. One spoke the truth, even when difficult, as a way of life.
One is not prone to close, interpersonal relationships. One connected sincerely and flexibly with others.
One is haughty and self-centered, “knowing” more than anyone. One had deep expertise in racial justice with no need to brag.
One sees the world as zero-sum and he must win. One sought cooperation, strong but often gentle and reserve.
One is stiff, can’t let his hair down lest his mask drop. One had a sense of humor and fun “happy dance” without concern.
One often exhibits anger and “putdowns.” One more often exhibited love even to his antagonists.
When a person with the characterological integrity of John Lewis walks in a world of smallness, fear, and animosity, the rest of us have the opportunity to rise above ourselves, borrowing from his or her depth. Not just American blacks or Americans in general, but human beings everywhere. We are profoundly privileged to have known him.
Thanks to my wife, Miriam Carver, who helped me this morning to translate some of our sadness into examination of these thoughts and some of our experience in short conversations with John Lewis that we’ve been so honored to have had.