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The legacy of Barbara Bush

In a 2013 interview with CSPAN, Barbara Bush said, “I pray. George and I pray every night, out loud, and sometimes we fight over whose turn it is, but we do.” Further, “I have no fear of death, which is a huge comfort because we’re getting darn close. I don’t have a fear of death for my precious George, or for myself, because I know that there is a great God, and I’m not worried.”


I admit, I am a longtime admirer of Barbara Bush, and I have read a great many tributes to her in the last few days, most of them with thoughtful quotes and bits of wisdom. This quote, though, has stuck with me and whispered in my ear as I go about my daily round. In it, I see a whole philosophy of life and a prescription for a healthy marriage.

She prayed. It was her habit. Every night, she opened herself to her Savior and called upon Him for help. Barbara Bush was the wife of a president and mother of a president. She was the mother of five living children, having raised them when her husband was busy building a formidable career. And she was the woman who cared for a dying daughter and grieved the loss the rest of her life. There is no question that Barbara Bush had a lot going on. But she had time to pray.

She prayed out loud and with her husband. When she told us about that, she opened for us A window to some of the most intimate moments in her marriage. Prayer requires humility. Opening oneself up personally and bearing the most tender parts of a soul to the Lord necessitates vulnerability. To do that out loud, in the presence of another person, is truly extraordinary. That’s where the three cords of a good, holy, happy marriage are tightly woven. In those moments of spoken prayer, George and Barbara Bush laid themselves bare to one another and to God. As a couple, they opened themselves to His grace. By all accounts, there’s was a happy 72-year marriage.

Barbara Bush had no fear of death for herself or her husband. Clearly, the quote indicates that she has considered death, perhaps that it is never far from her mind. Her fiance was shot down in the Pacific during World War II shortly before they were married, and her three-year-old daughter died of leukemia when Barbara was 28-years-old. Looking death in the face when in one’s 20s has a way of leaving an indelible mark on one’s soul. St. Benedict reminds us to “keep death daily before one’s eyes.” Confronting mortality in early adulthood permanently imprints death in one’s field of vision. For her long life, Barbara Bush lived as if there were something more important than the here and now, even though her here and now was often the stuff of world powers and the fate of the free world.

Barbara Bush lived knowing that God was great and that her mission was to serve him by serving others. To live within that paradigm meant that she faced old age free from worry. Her witness to the world and the legacy she leaves was often unspoken. If we look closely, we can see it in the fruit of her life. However unspoken it might be, though, she also was known for not mincing words. Perhaps her greatest gift to her husband and children was her candor. And candor, spoken with grace and dignity in kindness — takes both wisdom and courage. Karl Rove, a longtime family friend, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that all George Bush “achieved in their extraordinary life together was possible only because of her wisdom, unceasing love, bracing candor and sturdy values.”

That quote brings to mind the only other woman to have been both the wife and the mother of a president: Abigail Adams. The rich treasury of Mrs. Adams’ written correspondence with her husband tells us that she too was a woman of both prayer and candor.

And that is where I sit this morning, wondering what these women have to teach me. Can I let myself be vulnerable enough to pray out loud with my husband? And can I be courageous enough to offer wisdom, unceasing love, bracing candor, and sturdy values to my family? If the answer is “yes,” how will God use that in my family and then use my family to change the world?

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.




© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018