Here's the story for today’s blog. I was leaving where the press exits and was just outside the public area. Suddenly I was stunned. There stood a small statured man whom I had recognized. I then heard shouts from baseball fans headed for their cars, "Tough break Dick ...too bad you got caught," etc., etc., etc. It was President Richard Nixon.
I stand at 5-ft 7-in "plus" and he was shorter than me. That was my first surprise. I remember those debates vs. John Kennedy when Richard Nixon first ran for president in 1960. I remember two healthy tall men. Big men in my mind as an 11-year-old.
He apparently had special seating near where the press sits and we happened to exit at the same place and time.
My memory of Mr. Nixon, from when he was a "big man," was that impeachment from his presidency was not enough. Jail would be right. It’s not that I was political (I was unintentionally so) but hating Nixon was "the norm" for my culture. I graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 1971 and I was there for the riots and the student strikes. I well remember Viet Nam and Kent State too. I might add I personally experienced a few riots as I was chased by Boston police.
I was vacationing in Mexico in September of 1974 when President Ford pardoned Nixon. The news ruined my vacation. In my mind justice was not served … yet now this moment I was looking into his eyes. I saw a fragile man who was in great pain.
You see, this Mr. Nixon was hunched forward and his head was down. The “tough break Dick” comments were reflecting off his body like a person who had absorbed so many punches, he no longer could feel the punch. My sense was he did not need to hear actual comments of criticism because, in a real sense, that was all he ever heard in his mind, in his heart ... that was breaking. I was quieted.
Wendy and I moved away from Woodstock in 1986. We sold all we had, and for us it was much – because it was all we had. We went into full time ministry, and that is another story for another time, but one thing is for sure: we have seen the depravity of people.
We have seen poverty and lived among it, experienced personal loss and wept with others and they with us. In 18 years of volunteer work at homeless shelters, to go along with 14 years of fulltime pastoral work, and now 15 years as a traveling pastor-actor-director- writer, etc., etc., I have never seen a more broken person than Richard Nixon. His pain was his transparency. The media stereotype of Richard Nixon as "tricky Dicky" was so far from being true. He was not the least bit self conscious as so many public and private people are today.
In literature what makes tragedy tragedy is the high height one falls from. Richard Nixon certainly fits this description ala another Richard Shakespeare's King Richard or Macbeth and Hamlet.
I saw a broken man. A man who continued with "the shame" of his presidency, yet over time and with enormous personal pain …it became his kairos.
He was humbled. He was humiliated into humility, and it was beautiful to see yet painful to watch up close as I did. Oh that every poor and rich man would also be "poor in spirit.” Richard’s shame became his new identity. His sorrow was his outlet.
"Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted." He could not hide the pain of his process. So many of us miss what he attained because we will not show our loss. Richard Nixon could not hide from his sin. The public would not allow it. That in irony was his greatest blessing.
I do not know exactly when the 37th President died. It was in the late 80s and soon after his beloved wife died. I remember one journalist, a former Nixon hater, writing that when he saw how Richard mourned for his wife and how real it was to Mr. Nixon that he could no longer hate Richard Nixon.
Another journalist, after Mr. Nixon died, had a cartoon illustration showing a huge cloud in the sky and a hand reaching out to Richard Nixon. It was very much like the hand I met that night at Yankee Stadium. In the cartoon the words "pardoned."
I never thought of 1985 as the good old days. They seemed to me to be modern and cut throat. Certainly it was a culture getting colder and less friendly, and yet that was 30 years ago. In the last 30 years have you seen corruption, guilt, mendacity, and cover-up? What have you seen in Washington lately in humility or cover up of scandals? Where are Woodward and Bernstein today? Can you honestly say to yourself there is no material to get a "Nixon" today?
What I do not see today is what I saw in Mr. Nixon. I saw shame. I do not wish shame on my enemy, but if shame happens, covering up shame only fosters more of what causes shame in the first place. Where is guilt? Where is wrong and where is immoral? “Because of the increase in lawlessness, the love of most will grow cold.” Jesus said this about our times.
You can be your own Richard Nixon and be sorry. Only failures can play. There's hope for the losers. Buck the trend and end the game. Stop winning at the losing game and stop losing at that game too. Mr. Nixon left the game and found the life. The only One. The One he won and wins to this day.