, Newburyport, MA


March 16, 2013

On loss, and the lost art of letter-writing


In the White House, he delighted in telling reporters he resisted being put on the psychiatrist’s couch — Bushspeak for an aversion to introspection — but the new letters suggest otherwise. In them, he looks at the presidency, politics and the new world order he helped create in 1989 with a clarity suggesting he possessed “the vision thing” — another unforgettable chestnut from the Bush argot — all along.

But it is his experience and sobering confrontation with aging that is perhaps the most poignant revelation.

He found he was growing impatient about little things, like finding a videotape of “Bambi” or of “that horrible Simpson family” in the case where he expected to find his Hitchcock film, or about happening upon a can of 7UP “barely sipped — and left to get stale and warm.” This offended his Yankee frugality, bred more along Maine’s rocky coast than perhaps in his Greenwich, Conn., childhood.

These days when he rides his boat down the coast to Barnacle Billy’s in Ogunquit, Maine, the former leader of the free world orders the hot dog. The lobster roll is too expensive.

The message in Bush’s letter wasn’t the impoverishment of loss, but the richness of longevity. While he didn’t “expect to be on the A-team anymore,” the old master of the mixed metaphor told his children he wanted “to be there for you if you get a bad bounce in life, and no doubt you will for the seas do indeed get rough.”

Bush was known for “Read my lips” (on taxes) and for “This will not stand” (on Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait), but perhaps he should be remembered, too, for how he closed his letter to his children:

“If I shed tears easier now, try not to laugh at me, because I’ll lose more saline and that makes me feel like a sissy, and it might make my mouth dry later on, and might be bad for digestion, too. And besides, it’s OK to cry if you are a man — a happy man (me) or a man faced with sadness or hurt (not me). Hey, don’t point the first finger at whoever is shedding the tear because all Bushes cry easily when we’re happy, or counting our blessings, or sad when one of (us) gets bruised or really hurt inside.”

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