Every now and again there comes along that rare individual, who epitomizes selfless service and continuing sacrifice; someone who does so with grace and dignity. Amidst the ugly painful indignities of the day and his times, he rises above the crass and coarse, as well as the venomously hateful. John McCain was such a man, a true Christian soldier marching forward and past the pettiness of man, indeed the consuming barbarity of man against man.
As I look back on a life well lived, it is clear that he bore the scabs and scars of war well and thoughtfully; how he must have cringed at the loud empty courage of those who attack from behind the screens of office, the passions of a shallow and frightened nativism, and the rankness of today’s darkening America. Surely, this could not be the beloved country for which he gave up so much of the flight of youth, and the sweet bird that it always is! But there it is: loud and boisterous and swaggeringly self-loving. I hate to colour this portrait of a man admired, a fellow countryman that I laud today, but it would be an injustice if I did not. For that dank and dismal America is, in many respects, a reflection of the Guyana of nowadays that so many of us still love quietly and assumingly, and which is increasingly becoming a dirty replacement of that which once was. Like the American McCain, there is no need for true Guyanese to trumpet what is stood for from any shabby soapbox.
Senator McCain, the president that never was, and all because that simmering resurgent side of America suspected that he was neither hard enough nor uncompromising enough on those issues that have envenomed and dehumanize. These would include immigration, gun control, and the granddaddy of them all: abortion, as represented by that abomination of abominations: Roe v. Wade. And for his perceived softness, the war hero ended being at best snubbed and at the other extreme, vilified and condemned. The people doing the latter travel under the smug banners of evangelicals and the Christian Right and the Moral Majority. In a country that leads the world in financing and technology, freedoms and some standards, among a host of other things, there is this sick and sickening fascination with a woman’s right, privacy, and equality. John McCain paid the political price for his stance; he was a thoughtful man in a thoroughly maddened crowd. Clearly, he was a man out of season and unwilling to bend to the dictates of fanatics. Fundamentalists they are termed. It is instructive as to who is settled for as leader today: this new kind of hero who sprays vacuous media bullets and then scurries in cowardly retreat behind one falsehood after another, and with one highly paid flunky after another ready to do dirty work for him.
On the other hand, the now departed senator was not always heroic in his politics. There was a time and occasion when he stumbled badly and that tarnished an otherwise glowing image. It is best remembered as the Savings and Loan debacle. For his role in that multi-billion dollar financial swindle, there came the ignominy of that since notorious label: the Keating Five. It is a timely recollection that even among the best, there is that tendency towards the momentary lapse; that all too human thorn in the flesh that can be a fatal flaw to some.
I think that John McCain’s best battle was the one he fought against that creeping, cell-strangling, body withering torture called cancer. Having been close to many stricken with this dreaded disease, there is firsthand awareness and sensitivity to what is demanded of the mind, indeed the very soul, to summon the will to combat its relentless, remorseless approach. It is never a stealth enemy, but a daring and daunting one, that takes no prisoners, observes no truce, submits to no conventions. Time was counting for John McCain and he did have a long count. And now the clock has run out on a life that sparkles the imagination and lifts up in the continuing belief that a few good men can make a difference. Only a handful of good men can make a difference in a world overwhelmed by hate and spite and malice. It is why I still believe, against the odds, in Guyana and America, too. Now rest easy Senator, you have served your country well. Rest easy soldier, you have done your duty with honour and rare distinction.