A Sarge For All Seasons

On 22 January 2011, 4 days after he died, Sargent Shriver’s family honored their Lion King, a superior man who achieved quantifiable progress, the last truly great Democrat on America’s public stage.

From what I could observe, there weren’t many from the other side at Sargent Shriver’s memorial service. God and Democrats were everywhere. Easily, I could’ve been the sole Republican overwhelmed by evidence that, compared to “Sarge,” today’s Democrats are just cubs and hardly lions at all.

At least half of America’s citizens believe that much of what today’s empowered Democrats espouse is false, deceitful and dangerously wrong. By attending his funeral, I learned that “Sarge” was not of that mold. He was a different kind of Democrat, an honest, faithful man who did as mortals are supposed to do, what most public figures do not, what most of us cannot. 

At Shriver’s funeral, Camelot to come to mind, but not the one Jackie Kennedy Onassis conceived for their legacy. During the service, I realized that “Sarge” was the no-spin knight, more like King Arthur than any member of the vaunted Kennedy clan.  

On 19 January, the family of “Sarge” suddenly decided to allow the “General Public” to attend his funeral services at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. In wee Saturday hours, I suddenly decided to go…to be, as my stepmother used to say, “among those present.” 

While driving away from Washington, I noticed that Maryland’s River Road was crawling with cops. “White mice” dotted major and minor intersections. There were legible black and white signs along the way, and I noted approvingly that careful thinkers were in charge. The idea that the Obamas might attend never entered my silly RED head.

The chosen church was beautiful and unlike any other I’d seen. Round, extended in various directions, it was somewhat like a star made chiefly of stone. 

The services began at 10 AM, but by 8:20 AM, cars lined the roads and nearly filled the church lot. The first officer to stop me asked whether I’d been invited, before exclaiming that he loved my hat. Because I hadn’t been invited to the funeral, he kindly told me I was free to take any legal spot off church grounds. Before parking nearby, I told him I liked his hat too.

A second man in black, this time a Secret Service officer who looked 15, blurted out: Are you a VIP? 

That’s a tough question to answer for an American citizen of Scots-Irish descent, so I told him I was a member of the General Public, that very big club VIPs rarely wish to join.

After I’d been securitized, I was given the number 42 and ushered into a brightly lighted room, down the hall from the church itself. Almost ugly, it reminded me of a Quonset hut, lined with long folding tables and metal chairs. A blackboard hung upfront, topped by a small 1980’s TV. Gay Irish music piped into the room. And I mean gay.

A Secret Service man with a face that moved entered the General Public Room and scooped us on which VIPs were coming and when. He told us Mrs. Obama, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden would be arriving soon. After all the “VIPs” piled in, he’d do his best to usher us in by Bakers’ Dozens.

Not long after the service started, our man Scott was true to his word. Chunk by chunk, all General Pubs made it into the sanctuary or within its clear windows.  

Settling in on 2-inch heels, I began to focus. I sensed the organization, outreach and olympic tones of Senior Shrivers at work, as if “Eunie” and “Sarge” had planned every detail of just another large blue-ribbon event to uplift others.

Because I’d made it to the church on time, my view encompassed speakers, singers, and assorted monsigneurs, with Oprah, Bono, and Arnold along the way. The room was chock full of winners, people who make a living by taking sides, Liberal Democrat celebrities, politicians, media, family, and general folks. 

Aisle to aisle, we went teary and tingly contemplating the faithful ideals “Sarge” held up for his family and country. Like a Christmas service, it was peaceful and calm gathering in a place of worship, free to focus on God and human similarities, apart from parties, politics, and playing fields, machines, battles and wars.

It was wonderful, even enchanting, to hear “Sarge’s” 10 grandchildren and 5 adult children say goodbye to their beloved “Grandpa” and “Daddy,” before thanking God and greeting his spirit anew. It was a blessing to join them.

I was beginning to understand that Sargent Shriver represented my conservative Republican ideal of the long-lost Democrat: an honest, well-to-do, big-hearted man who spent his life improving the lives of others outside politics….a man well-grounded enough to have heard his calling and learned how best to achieve it: through faith, family, friends, and funding.   

Among other things, I learned that Shriver was different from most men because he never stopped asking God to help him make up the difference, and that he did this every day. Blessed with the right building blocks, his long, stunningly productive life actually was guided by God. Infused with the integrity of His words, Shriver forged fullsteam ahead in service to his King and country, choosing to fight most battles outside the bloody, corrupt arena of politics.

The jovial in-law literally protected himself, his family and nation with thebest and brightest armor, God’s and Man’s. He did what today’s Liberal Democrats do best: help the needy, fight for justice, and stay out of politics where their strengths do not lie. In the process, Sargent Shriver endured, becoming that rare man for all seasons, a winner in an age when such a quaint appellation is all but impossible.  

I know, unlike the unfortunate sons in the blighted Kennedy clan, he wasn’t fostered or led by a scurrilous patriarch. But only by going to his funeral, did I fully realize that “Sarge” himself was the real man to revere, the earthly patriarch who actually served God the Father. The proof’s in his great marriage, his many solid accomplishments, his children and grandchildren. 

Once we left the inspiring service, I suspect that for most of us, secular stress returned. While we hadn’t ever forgotten to care for the poor and needy, we remembered responsibilities, shows to host, lines to write, bills to pass and pay. We grew  anxious and took sides again.

But I was reminded that when it came to great Christian soldiers like Sargent Shriver, the bipartisan faith-side that flooded his life is still shared by most Americans. We’re not the clinging kind, but we try hard to hold onto our peace of the Lord before it “flies unending” out the door, and now not so fast among Sarge’s freshly annointed apostles.