We have lost a great president, a great American, and a great man, and I have lost a dear friend.
In his lifetime, Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that it was easy to forget what daunting historic tasks he set himself. He sought to mend America’s wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism. These were causes hard to accomplish and heavy with risk, yet they were pursued with almost a lightness of spirit, for Ronald Reagan also embodied another great cause, what Arnold Bennett once called “the great cause of cheering us all up”. His politics had a freshness and optimism that won converts from every class and every nation, and ultimately, from the very heart of the “evil empire.”
Yet his humour often had a purpose beyond humour. In the terrible hours after the attempt on his life, his easy jokes gave reassurance to an anxious world. They were evidence that in the aftermath of terror and in the midst of hysteria one great heart at least remained sane and jocular. They were truly grace under pressure. And perhaps they signified grace of a deeper kind. Ronnie himself certainly believed that he had been given back his life for a purpose. As he told a priest after his recovery, “Whatever time I’ve got left now belongs to the big fella upstairs.” And surely, it is hard to deny that Ronald Reagan’s life was providential when we look at what he achieved in the eight years that followed.
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