In Memorial of 41
I feel like the death of political figures is always complicated. Nobody is perfect, and every one of them has done things that people will vehemently disagree with. Death has a way of leveling us all, though, so putting politics aside, I wanted to share a bit about what it was like to experience a State Funeral here in DC.
The first unique experience was being able to go into the Capitol Rotunda and pay our respects. The Capitol Rotunda is a very majestic space, and it was moving to enter and see the coffin of the president lying on the black crepe draped catafalque that also held Lincoln’s body. Four servicemen/women stood at attention around the body, perfectly still, as people paid their respects. After we walked through, we picked up a commemorative card for the 41st president and signed a book of condolence. It was a nice way to say goodbye. As we left the Capitol, we saw the current President’s motorcade speed up Pennsylvania Avenue so that the President and First Lady could pay their respects, and then we saw it race back down a few minutes later.
Another unique experience was not having to work on the national day of mourning. In the morning, we tried to walk down to the Cathedral to see if we could get close or see the procession, but, not surprisingly, everything was blocked off by police. Instead, we came home and watched part of the service on TV. It’s truly bizarre to watch something like that and know it’s happening live about a mile away. I thought the service was touching, and it was a testament to the character of the man that so many were there to say goodbye so movingly.
It’s also worth mentioning the security. The concentration of power at events like this is truly mind-boggling. As you can imagine, there was a ton of security, police, helicopters, etc. all over the Capitol while Bush lay in state and in the area of the cathedral the morning of the service. It’s kind of amazing how smoothly everything goes when there are so many important people and extra security around. It’s obvious that these types of events are heavily choreographed and planned for extensively and constantly, not just when something does happen.
To close—grief humanizes us all. The experience was a reminder that while we might not always agree, it is worth pausing for a moment to recognize the grief of others for a lost family member or to acknowledge a life of service. It’s not an event to be glad about, but I’m grateful that I got a chance to experience it.
Some more photos from the week. Click for a larger version and captions.