Monday, August 08, 2011

Mark O. Hatfield, RIP

I think that a lot of my worldview was set at a fairly young age. Traveling with my parents to visit my sister in the small Andean town of Popayan, Columbia, where her husband was doing post-grad work (or possibly grant work, I was only 9 at the time) in anthropology - getting to go to and meet people from both the barrio and the landowners was a gift I didn't appreciate for a very long time.

However, there was another event that I'd completely forgotten about until this very morning, when I opened up the paper and saw that perhaps the greatest statesperson Oregon has ever produced, Mark O. Hatfield, died. He was respected by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and had a reputation for being the cleanest politician in Washington.

When I was young, my family attended a small Presbyterian church. This was a pretty liberal church - not a lot of talk of Hell and damnation, not a lot of focus on getting punished for doing wrong, much more focus on just doing the right thing. I know that a few of you who know me personally are going to be amazed that I went to church at *all*, but it's true. Didn't stick much - by the time I was 13 or 14 I was doing my own passive resistance movement when it came to Sunday mornings by simply refusing to get out of bed. My mother finally gave up.

One Sunday we were fortunate enough to have Senator Hatfield give the sermon at our church. The subject of the sermon was one that literally changed my view of the world. Back in the late 60's and very early 70's, especially in my little corner of suburban Portland, things were pretty homogenous and stable, at least in terms of what the neighbors were aware of. I definitely believed in God at the time, and was under the impression that as the best and richest country in the world that America was definitely favored by God.

That wasn't the sermon Senator Hatfield gave us. He told us that we were *not* the new Israel, that we were *not* favored by God. We were a good country trying to do the right thing, but we were just as much the children of God as anyone else on the planet, no matter what their faith or worldview. Understand that I was probably about 11 years old, so to have an adult tell me that we were, in essence, just getting along like everyone else was a real shock in some ways, although it wasn't until much later that I really started to understand what a shift in my thinking that was. My parents were still perfect, remember, at that age. Teachers were always right. There were a few kids at school who acted out, but in general things were pretty much Leave It To Beaver in my neighborhood.

And there was nothing special about us except the fact that we were human.

Over the course of my life, I've tried to understand as many sides of an issue as I could. Recent experience has taught me that there are a lot of people, perhaps a majority of people, who are about as interested in that idea as of eating dirt. I trust my leaders so much as they earn that trust, which is increasingly smaller every year at most levels of government. I believe that if the world is good, it's because we make it good, not because some higher power's idea of good is at work. Most of all, I try very hard to avoid acting like a spoiled brat with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement when things aren't going the way I'd like them to. OK, I have my moments, but I like to think there are relatively few of them.

All of these things I can trace back to a lot of things, including some good role modeling by my parents and family and some very good friends growing up, but I can also trace my these things to one famous man speaking in my church and laying the foundations for responsible adulthood in my mind.

Senator Hatfield was not well the final years of his life, and he died in Bethesda, MD, far from his home. I think that's a shame for a man who left such an indelible stamp on the state he called home.

My thoughts are with the Hatfield family tonight, but Mark lived a good life, doing good things. He was a model that many if not all of our "statespeople" today could learn a lot from - work with your opponent, get to know them and their point of view, find compromises that achieve your goals as well as the goals of your opponents. We don't have to all join hands and sing Kum Ba Yah, but we also don't have to call each other vermin and Nazi with such gusto and with so little provocation.

Thank you, Senator Hatfield. You probably had no idea you had such an effect on a young boy sitting in that little church, and there's no question that what you said that day also had a big effect on me not being actively religious (and certainly not Christian by most people's standards, although I'm always astonished at how bigoted some Christians are against other people who wear the same label), which is probably not what the pastor at my church had in mind. That said, you made me a better person with more perspective, and I hope that you, sir, are in a better place. One where we can solve problems without the main idea being winning the next election or meeting this month's financial projections. We miss you.


Anonymous said...

Doug - Super random note: I had a dream on Wednesday that I had met Mark Hatfield. Spooky thing is that I didn't really know much about him, and didn't know of his death until reading this post tonight (Sunday) (I have been camping).

Anyway, thanks for sharing.

Ben H.

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