I had the privilege of meeting Senator John McCain when I was 20 years old. I was working on an event for a gubernatorial candidate, and McCain happened to be at the event to support the candidate. When I was introduced to Senator McCain, I was so nervous I could hardly speak, but McCain disarmed me with his good humor and willingness to take time to ask me about my college experience. I had nothing to offer Senator McCain politically, yet he took the time to talk with me. After McCain’s passing, I heard many similar stories from people who had the privilege to engage briefly with him. Each of them noted how, in that moment, McCain made them feel as though he was the one privileged to be meeting them. This is one reason why Senator McCain’s passing is such an enormous loss for the United States: we will miss his humility—a trait that is rare among America’s leading politicians these days.
We will also miss the strong courage of conviction that McCain showed when he faced enormous political pressure. Senator McCain earned his nickname “Maverick” for good reason. He rarely allowed himself to be imprisoned by his party’s platform when he believed it was wrong. McCain’s strong commitment to his core principles came, in part, from his experience as a Prisoner of War—there is something about such a horrific experience that focuses one’s mind on what is good, true, and right. I did not always agree with Senator McCain’s decisions (and neither did he—a true sign of his humility), but I could always admire the ways he spoke for what he believed rather than tickling the ears of his audience to win their approval. I admired him just as much for his willingness to compromise with those on the other side of the aisle for the sake of the common good.
I was speaking the other day with a JBU student about the current political situation in the US. We were noting that we live in a strange time—a time in which everything seems topsy-turvy and it is very difficult to locate true north. I told the student that, as long as Americans have a few strong guides in Washington, D.C., I have confidence that the nation can emerge from its political wanderings and find its way again.
I believe we do have such guides—Senators Cory Booker, Tim Scott, Susan Collins and Ben Sasse come to mind. Nevertheless, we can’t help but be saddened by the loss of a giant like John McCain. In some of the most difficult moments of the past few years, McCain called us over and over again to live up to the ideals of our American democracy.
How do we honor such a man? By showing the same humility, courage, and willingness to compromise that he modeled for us. As Senator McCain taught us, no amount of political success makes a single bit of lasting difference unless it is accompanied by the virtues that have always made the United States strong—virtues that transcend our narrow party affiliations and affinities and can be claimed by anyone, even by those with whom we disagree. May we remember these lessons from Senator McCain as we seek our true north in these disorienting times.