A national mother
I confess to a distracted moment at Mass the day after Barbara Bush died. I was at an afternoon Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and Bill Clinton’s chief campaign strategist, Paul Begala, was in my peripheral vision. The first petition was for the repose of the former first lady’s soul. Here was a man who helped defeat her husband in 1992, and here we were praying together for her soul. At a time of such polarization, it’s best not to take moments like this for granted. They still can happen.
And is it a surprise that Barbara Bush would make such a moment possible? There was something about her — something of a natural national mother.
The Mass moment also restored some of my peace. The night before, I had seen some of the social media traffic about her death. Some pro-life folks in my line of Facebook sight were pushing back against tributes to her because she disagreed with her husband and sons (president and governor) on abortion.
A few things about that: Often when she was asked about this issue, she made clear she was not pushing an agenda, as she was not the one who had ever run for office. She believed it to be a personal decision, and it wasn’t one high on her priority list. I interpreted that as: I know who I’m about — I have a family I love and support and that’s where my heart is. And didn’t that show through? And, from a pro-life perspective, wasn’t she part of the solution, in the way that God works with everything? (And among other things, George W. Bush tells the story of helping her to a hospital after a miscarriage and how it made clear to him the preciousness of human life from its earliest stages.)
I remember being mesmerized by the George and Barbara Bush story, and reflecting on it after her passing, I can’t help but think of Pope Francis — giving his advice to married couples to never go to bed angry at one another, but also giving advice to priests: Remember your first love.
Part of the irresistibility of the George and Barbara Bush love story is the “first kiss” aspect of it. God puts desires on our hearts, but people touch our hearts immediately if we keep our eyes open. Sometimes he calls us to marriage. Other times he calls us to himself in a more exclusive way, and sometimes he has a plan for life that demonstrates on a national stage that real lifelong love in marriage is possible. Barbara Bush also demonstrated that good sense is possible. That raising children in this confusing time in a no-nonsense way is possible. Now, obviously, the Bushes had their advantages, and a political dynasty is not every family. But she kept children grounded in the midst of all that. And she loved her husband until she took her last breath in such mutual and fruitful giving.
And as with my St. Pat’s moment, even with the occasional presidential campaign, there’s always been a bipartisan cultural appreciation of Barbara Bush as a wife and mother in a culture that asks at near every gathering of polite society: What do you do? “I’m George’s wife and George’s mother and …” was not anything it ever occurred to Barbara Bush to be hesitant or awkward about.
As it should be. Barbara Bush was a national commercial for marriage and motherhood and family. As we pray for her eternal soul, pray for the families of America, that they should know as much love as Barbara Bush did and was a source of, and that women can be synonymous with it as Barbara Bush was. It’s in seeing its lived reality as possible that hearts and minds will embrace what law has poisoned.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).