by Annalise Weber '20, Charlotte Betts '19, Eliza Poggi '19, and Molly Brigham '19
On Saturday, September 1st, thousands of family members, loved ones, and many prominent political figures gathered together at the Washington National Cathedral to commemorate the life of Arizona Senator John McCain. All of these people came from varying political backgrounds and views but were brought together by the strength and leadership that McCain brought to the United States. This unification of many different viewpoints and political opinions was one of the many goals that Senator McCain strived to complete during his time in office. The physical unification of various views present and eulogizing at Senator McCain’s funeral was a moving a special way to honor such a prominent political figure.
Acting as “a house of prayer for all people”, the cathedral often asks the choristers to assist them in their core mission: to cater to a wide array of spiritual needs. The choristers were expected to treat McCain’s funeral no differently from a weekday evensong, or a Sunday morning mass; our purpose was to give dimension to the liturgy, and connect the audience through song. We did exactly that. Interspersed throughout impassioned eulogies, tributes, and prayer, we sang a psalm, and multiple patriotic hymns. Leading McCain’s close friends, family, and even ex-presidents in song, moved the service to a unique place, and was extremely powerful.
As choristers, we got the privilege to experience the series of eulogists live. They each took different approaches in honoring the senator’s legacy, ranging from Joe Lieberman’s lighthearted jabs to Meghan McCain’s tearful tribute to her father’s heroic role both on the battlefield and as a father. One concept each eulogy had in common, however, was McCain’s commitment to uniting Americans despite political differences. His genuine friendship with Obama was rare in our country’s polarized political environment. Even in his final days battling cancer, he maintained loyalty to causes aligned with his moral compass, even if it meant diverging with his party’s platform. In the nation as well as in our own communities, we fail to embrace diversity of thought and reject others’ opinions on political issues because they differ from our own. We use political party associations to define character. Honoring McCain’s legacy means reaching beyond this divide to develop a greater community and a greater America.
Interpretations of the funeral dominated the news cycle. Meghan McCain’s political eulogy and John McCain’s own exclusion of Trump from the service made the McCain family’s disapproval of the president clear. However, not only the choristers, but people around the nation were able to witness moments of bipartisanship either macro (Obama as a eulogist) or micro (Bush passing candy to Michelle). The inclusive mission of the “house of prayer for all people” allowed the cathedral to provide the perfect setting for the country to watch its leaders, for a moment, reconcile their differences and grieve for a fallen hero.