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John McCain's enduring messages

I sat in the balcony for John McCain's memorial in Phoenix. Twenty-four hours later, I'm still mulling what I heard and saw. A few thoughts:

1. McCain was often blunt, so I appreciated the subtle elements, such as white-rose floral arrangements set off by blue back lighting (which changed to blue and red by the end of the ceremony). Maybe the back lighting had another message, one matching the rest of the ceremony?

2. Not subtle: The message that we are all Americans, and we should be able to argue and debate and disagree while remaining civil. Joe Biden clearly said it in his eulogy for the ages, but by his presence and in his remarks so did Tommy Espinoza, the once fiery activist who now runs Raza Development Fund and, though a Democrat, co-chaired McCain's first Senate run.

The big questions: Will Americans hear the message?

It takes no effort to find those who regularly denigrate the other side as traitors, useful idiots, haters and the like, thus saying that their ideas have no merit. This is destructive to democracy and the principles of self-rule. If only one side is right, and the other side is dangerous, we can make no progress. We can only have gridlock.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats nor independents have all the answers. Solutions are found in taking the best that each side has to offer and molding these diverse ideas into something better, more workable, more acceptable. It is Hegel's thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

The loudest voices of the left and right disparage such thinking, but McCain understood the truth in it. I think a large number of Americans do too. I wish that McCain's final words, the sentiments shared Thursday in Phoenix and likely to be repeated in DC on Saturday, could turn the tide. I have my doubts. What will it take for the country to reject the extremes of the loudest voices on the left and right and reclaim a sane approach to governing?

3. Also explicit: Civility matters. I am continually befuddled by my conservative friends who believe that to support Trump's policies they must also support the man's venal instincts. I wish they would call him on it when he belittles those he disagrees with, raises bogeymen and generally appeals to the worst of our natures. McCain and Flake have done so, and were treated as pariahs for doing so. They're right: Uncivil discourse does not serve this nation.

The left needs to do the same. Conservatives are not racist because they oppose this policy or that one. Listen to the Democrat Joe Biden: "When you challenge their motive, it's impossible to get to go. If I say you are going this because you are being paid off or you are doing it because you are not a good Christian or this, that, or the other thing, it's impossible to reach consensus. Think about in your personal lives. All we do today is attack the oppositions of both parties, their motives, not the substance of their argument."

4. McCain will be long remembered because of his service and public policy positions. But the stories that most moved the 3,000 people in North Phoenix Baptist Church were the personal insights, the stories of a moment shared by two human beings: McCain's horrible driving; drinking ouzo and dancing on tables in a Greek cafe with Jill Biden, being surprised with a mariachi band at Tommy Espinoza's home, e-mailing Larry Fitzgerald that he needed to pick up his game.

When our time comes, we'll have our accomplishments and triumphs, yet our friends and families will most treasure those small, human moments.

5. The music was gorgeous and diverse: American Indian flute and drum, Brophy's boys choir, who sang "Amazing Grace" and "Arizona," a song I'd never heard, and a solo bagpiper on Dvorak's Largo from the New World Symphony (though it was labeled as "Going Home" in the program).

Sarah Elliott played a well-thought out program on piano, including a key-changing arrangement of "America," seguing into Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze." There was more Bach, and that wonderfully comforting hymn, "All Is Well.

6. I remain grateful that I was able to be at the service on Thursday. To say I was surprised when I received an invitation is putting it lightly. I don't know exactly how I ended up on the list, but it was an honor and a privilege to be there.

(Photo from

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