Friday, June 11, 2004

After the Sunset. The whole family went down for the visitation on Wednesday night and met up with three in from Louisiana who were downtown for the procession. I regret missing the procession -- my wife's cousin and his friends were very impressed. They said they could see the details on the jets as they flew by.

We got in line a little before 9 pm -- it was hot, but the sun was setting. We wound our way through a snaking line and after about three hours we were told we were about two hours away. In the old Soviet Union, this is what people did to get toilet paper. How the world has changed -- because of this man.

Joe fell asleep in the stroller, but Em seemed to rev up -- did someone give her some coffee? Sarah was wonderful -- always cheerful and upbeat (except for one moment when she discovered she'd lost one of her magic beans -- we had the whole line [okay, not the whole line, but several hundred people looking for it -- no luck). After awhile -- around midnight -- staffers appeared and started handing out copies of a congressional resolution on President Reagan -- very nice, but I was more impressed that they were there so late at night.

About a half hour later, Joy discovered they were handing out coffee -- she was in heaven.

We talked about his final address to us -- the letter announcing he had Alzheimer's and how, even then, he was both gracious and full of hope:
In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

A little later, we saw Mark, a friend from church and a staffer for Sen. Rick Santorum -- it was nice to see a friendly face, but (repeating myself), I was very impressed that he was there so late at night to help people out.

Many were there handing out water. Those in line were chatting, reading, talking on cell phones; my wife called a good friend in Seattle at midnight. The heat never broke -- before we had to shut off the phones we called weather -- the temperature was 81 (after midnight), high humidity, no breeze.

Finally, we made it through security -- two different checkpoints. Everyone was very friendly (except for the people in the main screening tent -- not sure what was wrong there).

We still had a longer wait on the West porch of the Capitol Building -- beautiful views. I remember a pre-9/11 world when I actually used to run a lap around here in the mornings before work -- very early, I used to observe Newt's Mustang convertible parked on the East side. It was the first time my three youngest had been up there.

The line would move swiftly, but come to a complete standstill every now and then. One of the officers explained that at the changing of the guard every half-hour the viewing was halted. He said it took about 7 minutes.

Soon we were nearing the entrance and I pointed out that this was where the President stood when he was first sworn in -- the first president to face America, instead of facing Europe.

Time to wake Joe up -- he did not want to wake up. Joy pushed the stroller while I tried to get Joe to stand up (and wake up). Emmie went with her Mom; Sarah went with Sarah (from La.). Jared and Tyler (from La.) carried the stroller up the stairs to the Rotunda and we all climbed the stairs...

Then we were there, in the chambers. There was the flag draped over the box that held the shell of the Man. I would like to tell you of how I wept and prayed and cherished my memories of Reagan and observed the majesty of the event and all that happened, but I was a parent wanting to ensure my son understood these things. How well I succeeded? Time will tell.

We lingered as long as possible -- in the back -- and left too soon.

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