Monday, July 9, 2007

Reflections on a President

by Joyce DiPastena

Weeks of intensive research. Two days of high powered organizing, color coding, weaving together of information, and perhaps most painfully of all, chiseling out beloved passages and anecdotes to come up with a 15 (okay, okay, 17) minute talk on George Washington for Sacrament Meeting on Sunday morning. By bedtime Saturday night, my brain felt totally fried. Sunday morning everything, including the talk, went by in a whirl.

Now, as relief and relaxation at last set in, my thoughts still linger on the Father of our Country. I honor and appreciate the examples and precedents he set, and the sacrifices he made so that our free country could be born. But these are not the things that float in a pleasant glow in the aftermath of my talk on his “Importance”. No. The images of the man that continue with me this restful Sabbath evening—many of which I was forced to excise from my talk for “time”—are as follows (in quite random order):

Washington at Mount Vernon, enjoying a slice of pineapple, one of his favorite foods.

Washington the General, breaking another tooth on the battlefield while cracking a Brazil nut between his jaws.

Washington the husband, sitting across the breakfast table, reading the newspaper to his wife, Martha.

Washington the friend, relaxing at Mount Vernon with houseguests beside the warmth of a crackling fire.

Washington the step-father, taking Martha’s children, or perhaps his step-grandchildren, to see a passing circus and forgetting his cares just long enough to “oooo”, and “ahhh”, and laugh along with them.

Washington the farmer, inventing his own plow.

Washington the builder, erecting a four-story gristmill, not only to process his own wheat, but that of his neighbors.

Hot blooded Washington who, as President, once so lost his usually tightly controlled temper, that he threw his hat on the floor and stomped on it right in front of Thomas Jefferson.

Reserved, supremely self-confident Washington who yet possessed sensitive feelings that could be easily hurt. When criticized for his presidential bows (in lieu of a more informal handshake), he responded, “Would it not have been better to throw the veil of charity over them [the bows], ascribing their stiffness to the effects of age or to the unskillfulness of my teacher, than to pride and dignity of office, which God knows has no charms for me?"

Washington the insecure, so self-conscious about his lack of formal education that after retiring as commander-in-chief at the end of the war, he dug out the letter books he had kept in his youth and diligently corrected misspellings and grammatical errors before he would allow them to be copied for posterity.

Washington the aging commander, digging a pair of spectacles from his coat pocket to read a congressional message to his officers, and bringing them to tears when he said, “I have already grown gray in the service of my country. I am now going blind.”

Washington the weary President, who at the end of a long, stressful day, found comfort and joy in watching children at play.

The Soldier I admire, the President I honor . . . but it is Washington the Man that I have come to love.

6 comments:

  1. Now I want to run to the library and read some more about George Washington! Thank you for sharing those tender thoughts about him. I never considered myself to have much interest in history, although my hubby's idea of recreational reading is Churchill's History of the World. Perhaps it is the process of growing older and hopefully wiser, but I have a growing hunger for learning more about our founding fathers, the Constitution and the difference between leadership and statesmanship. Those men were true statesman...something that is sorely lacking in our present day political arena.

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  2. Thank you, Joyce. I thought I knew the Father of our Country, but every single one of your insightful comments was new to me. I'm touched. I'm pleased. I'm impressed with your research, your delightful presentation, and with him. I would love to have heard your talk. Would you like to post it? Or attach it to an email?

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  3. Oh yes definitely pass on your talk to us. Washington is and has always been my hero in the truest sense of the word. People who know me laugh when anyone asks me about Washington. I can go on for days. Mount Vernon is unique experience compared to Braintree or Montcello. He was one of a few who made a significant difference not realizing he was actually making that difference.

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  4. Anna and Terri,

    I'd be glad to send you copies of my talk--GW is now one of my heroes, too :-) --but I have to warn you that in the time crunch to get it ready, I ended up plagiarizing huge sections. In my personal copy, I marked these sections in blue, so I'd at least I'd know which parts were mine, and which were someone else's words. And I do have all the "blue sections" documented in my computer files. If you'd still like to read my talk after that confession(!), send your email addresses to me at jdipastena@theriver.com, and I'll be happy to forward you a copy.

    Kari (and anyone else), if you'd like to read something shorter than a book, these are some of the websites I used for my information:

    http://www.srmason-sj.org/council/journal/feb00/rees.html

    http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1994/spring/george-washington-1.html

    http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2007/02/what_washington.html

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  5. Thank you for posting this, Joyce. I was touched by the paragraph about his sensitivity to criticism about his stiff bow. Wasn't it he who chose that the president should be called "Mr. President" rather than "Your Excellency"? I think that tells how he felt about the pride and dignity of office.

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  6. This was great! I'd love a copy of the talk, too, please : )

    Heather

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