We wrongly imagine that the lives of the famous have nothing to teach us, which is profoundly mistaken. We learn that from the lessons of Barbara Bush’s great and inspiring life. May God receive her soul.
- Lesson 1: You do not need to color your hair.
I have nothing against the chemical and surgical ways we employ to mask our aging. If those procedures give you more confidence to face a harsh, judgmental and youth-obsessed world, then God bless you. However, I admire people who wear the predations of age proudly and without apology. Barbara Bush’s hair apparently turned white when her 3-year-old daughter Robin died of leukemia. Whether or not she left her hair white as a memorial to her daughter does not matter. What matters is that white was the real color of her hair and she was comfortable in her own hair. Her white hair was an inescapable sign that she was not trying to deceive or improve or evade her true physical state. Such self-confidence is rare in people and even rarer among women in the gender-constrained times in which she was born. I admire that confidence greatly and I hope we can all learn the great lesson of her white hair.
- Lesson 2: Get yourself some smile wrinkles.
Barbara Bush had crow’s feet wrinkles around her eyes. The crow’s feet were in part another body lesson like that of her white hair, but her wrinkles include a larger lesson. Yes, she never had those wrinkles chemically obliterated, but the important thing is how they got there in the first place. In order to get Barbara Bush’s smile wrinkles you would have had to smile as much as Barbara Bush. Our face is the unimpeachable witness to our nature. If we are happy and smile to express that joy, our face records our joy in smile wrinkles. Conversely, if we are always fearful and grumpy, our face becomes permanently creased with frown wrinkles. Now since the world gives us all more than enough reasons to smile or to frown, it is our choice how we choose to crease our faces. Barbara Bush chose to crease her face with a lifetime of smiles and so can we. You could say that she lived a life of privilege and so her smiling was easy, but she lost a child who was just 3 years old, she moved 26 times and her private life was annihilated by the harsh light of political warfare. To me, her smiles represented a remote human achievement that is also available to us all.
- Lesson 3: The only way to remain married for 73 years is to touch and laugh.
By all accounts (and I saw this as well), Barbara and George were always holding hands and were often laughing. It is no wonder to me that they were married for 73 years. When I interview couples intending marriage, I look for two things as they sit before me. Do they touch each other for no reason and do they laugh? Touching is a sign that they want and need physical contact to bring each other comfort and to say “I love you” without using words. Laughter is the sure sign that the two people are comfortable with each other and appreciate each other and do not take things too seriously.
Barbara Bush used humor to deprecate herself. When she became first lady, she said: “Many fat, white-haired ladies are pretty happy right now.” She was also wickedly funny. One of the reasons for this eulogy was that I deeply admired her, but another reason was to be able to tell a joke I heard from her that still makes me smile. Clean, funny jokes are not that common, and this is one of the best: “George and I lived in a town in Texas that was so small the town’s veterinarian was also the town’s taxidermist. He had a sign in his office window, ‘One way or the other, you’re gonna get your dog back.’ ”
- Lesson 4: The only way to decrease your fear of death is to increase your belief in Heaven.
We think of religious beliefs as just ideas we hold in our mind, and this is true but not true enough. Religious beliefs change the way we live by bringing hope in the face of our fear of death. Barbara Bush did not fear death because she believed that a good and loving God awaited her soul. This is a gift of God not only to the powerful but to each and every one of us.
May God comfort her family and may she embrace her daughter in Heaven as we embrace her memory here on earth. Amen.