In Memorium: Ronald Reagan

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Next week, June 6, will be the anniversary of Ronald Reagan's death in 2004, exactly sixty years after D—Day.

A year before his death, President Reagan made a cameo appearance in one of my dreams.  I seemed to be standing in the lobby of a public building, when he appeared from around a corner, saw me, and came over and shook my hand.  Not knowing quite what to do, I straightened to attention and saluted.  It seemed the proper response to the man who broke the ice of the Cold War.  He smiled and disappeared.

In the lucid interval of reflection that sometimes follows a dream, I suddenly realized I was thinking of a chimpanzee.  That was not surprising.  With the vindictiveness characteristic of disgruntled liberals, Reagan's detractors have never let us forget Bedtime for Bonzo.   But that didn't seem to be the reason. 

Finally, I remembered a science fiction story from my youth—'Father of the Stars' by Frederick Pohl.  It concerns the last days of a great scientist whose discoveries and inventions had made space travel possible.  In his old age, he wanted to experience space travel himself and therefore, like all other astronauts of that time, had to submit to having his brain transferred to the body of a chimpanzee, the only animal whose body could stand the stress of rocket acceleration.  But in his case, the synapse was not stable and, after landing on a newly discovered planet, he reverted to animal instincts and ran off to die, alone and frightened.

That's how Ronald Reagan seemed to die.  Like HAL, the computer in 2001 AD, his memory banks were slowly tuned off, one by one, until there was nothing left.  Or that is how, in our horror at contemplating the possibility of Alzheimer's in ourselves, we imagine it to be.  But Alzheimer's is like Hamlet's 'undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.' We don't know what it's like in there.  I propose that, swiftly or slowly, we die as we have lived; that good men die well and brave men bravely.  The summer before he died, Nancy Reagan said in a TV interview: 'he's still there.'   That would mean that his proverbial courage and humor were in there with him.
Pohl's story ends something like this:

'...and that is why the pedestal of his memorial features the bas relief of a frightened ape.   But the statue above it is that of a god.'

So let it be with Ronald Reagan.  Amid the magnificence of the Reagan Memorial that must inevitably be erected, let there be somewhere a statue of a lonely old man.  Let us show some of the courage he was noted for and face his manner of death unflinchingly, as the gallant struggle it was.   Who knows; perhaps it was not only his last battle, but also his greatest.

Paul Shlichta    5 29 06

Next week, June 6, will be the anniversary of Ronald Reagan's death in 2004, exactly sixty years after D—Day.

A year before his death, President Reagan made a cameo appearance in one of my dreams.  I seemed to be standing in the lobby of a public building, when he appeared from around a corner, saw me, and came over and shook my hand.  Not knowing quite what to do, I straightened to attention and saluted.  It seemed the proper response to the man who broke the ice of the Cold War.  He smiled and disappeared.

In the lucid interval of reflection that sometimes follows a dream, I suddenly realized I was thinking of a chimpanzee.  That was not surprising.  With the vindictiveness characteristic of disgruntled liberals, Reagan's detractors have never let us forget Bedtime for Bonzo.   But that didn't seem to be the reason. 

Finally, I remembered a science fiction story from my youth—'Father of the Stars' by Frederick Pohl.  It concerns the last days of a great scientist whose discoveries and inventions had made space travel possible.  In his old age, he wanted to experience space travel himself and therefore, like all other astronauts of that time, had to submit to having his brain transferred to the body of a chimpanzee, the only animal whose body could stand the stress of rocket acceleration.  But in his case, the synapse was not stable and, after landing on a newly discovered planet, he reverted to animal instincts and ran off to die, alone and frightened.

That's how Ronald Reagan seemed to die.  Like HAL, the computer in 2001 AD, his memory banks were slowly tuned off, one by one, until there was nothing left.  Or that is how, in our horror at contemplating the possibility of Alzheimer's in ourselves, we imagine it to be.  But Alzheimer's is like Hamlet's 'undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.' We don't know what it's like in there.  I propose that, swiftly or slowly, we die as we have lived; that good men die well and brave men bravely.  The summer before he died, Nancy Reagan said in a TV interview: 'he's still there.'   That would mean that his proverbial courage and humor were in there with him.
Pohl's story ends something like this:

'...and that is why the pedestal of his memorial features the bas relief of a frightened ape.   But the statue above it is that of a god.'

So let it be with Ronald Reagan.  Amid the magnificence of the Reagan Memorial that must inevitably be erected, let there be somewhere a statue of a lonely old man.  Let us show some of the courage he was noted for and face his manner of death unflinchingly, as the gallant struggle it was.   Who knows; perhaps it was not only his last battle, but also his greatest.

Paul Shlichta    5 29 06