This post is reprinted from Newsweek. See the original column here.
Tony Snow has died. A young man (with my next birthday being number sixty, I am entitled to the folly of calling a fifty-three year old “young”), with a facile mind, an easy smile, and a quick wit; a man who had a perpetual twinkle in his eye when he was doing what he he born to do; a man who loved his wife and his children; a man who loved politics and maybe a little more loved the verbal sparring that comes with politics well-played; a man who desperately did not want to die. And when he died, I cried. I know I cried not just for him, but—filled with fear—for myself as well. The diagnoses of our cancer recurrences (“recurrences” being one of those misnomers we simply endure) tumbled out upon one another by days, and I felt—and feel— connected to a man who loved what I loved, although we came to nearly every argument from opposite corners of the ring.
Last week—when Tony was still alive and I was not so afraid—I rode my bicycle in a small Fourth of July parade at the beach to which we have gone for close to two decades. When I got to the celebration and stepped off the bicycle, an older man approached me. I hope you are doing well, he said, and then he added—oddly, it is more often the case that people do feel obliged to confess the gap between us—”although we don’t agree on much of anything.” I thanked him for his good wishes and then I added—as I often do—”and I suspect we agree on more than you think.” He smiled, I smiled, and that was that. And then Tony died. And I thought more about the things on which we agree and the things on which we disagree. And as with my parade companion, I suspect Tony and I agreed on more things that we might have guessed.
We each chose to reach for something larger than the life and body with which we were saddled when we kept our course after the last diagnoses. We did it because we thought it was important and because (although it is chic to say that one detests politics) we actually loved the give and take it, the struggle to find what you think is right and the imperative to make others understand and agree. But what, in the end, does it tell us about what we each found to be really important? I am guessing it is not school vouchers or the expensing of stock options or class action lawsuits about salacious material in video games. It was that woman who stood with him years before and promised to love him in sickness and in health; it was those children, whose births marked the very best days of his life. And it isn’t so different for any of us, is it? Not for the rich man or the poor man, for the Ethopian or the Thai or the Oregonian. So why do we have such trouble turning what we have in common into common cause? There will always be fault lines where we just disagree, but can’t we find—maybe in our founding documents—the things on which we do agree and work from there instead of starting always, always perched as soldiers along those fault lines?
We hear the words of common cause recited. We even felt it as a nation—maybe as a planet—after the horrors of September 11th made us forget whom we supposed to hate. But the finely worded leaflet blows away in the wind, or the calendar pages turn. And we are back where we always were.
Three of the captives who were released after five and a half years in Colombia were interviewed this past week. We had a great deal of time, they said, to examine our former selves—our conduct, our values, our choices—and we now know something none of you can know about what really matters. And we are different today because we know. Is that the only way we get to the point of dropping our guard, our weaponry? The horrors of September 11th, half a decade in captivity, the guillotine of a fatal disease over our heads? It cannot be. We cannot let it be.
Tony Snow has died. And lots of people who valued the same things Tony did—a family well-loved and work well-done—have died and will die of colon cancer, those who have preceded Tony and those who will follow him. Can’t we start with something easy on which we can agree? That no one should die of a disease we can find and stop? And we when agree—and agree to do something about it—then we can move on toward those fault lines, like Tony, not taking no for an answer.