I pulled into the driveway, dropped my head to the steering wheel and wept a hurricane of tears.
I wept for Senator John McCain. I have stood in the room in Hanoi where he was imprisoned, saw the photos of the POWs of Vietnam. I’ve heard so many first-hand accounts from the men and women who served in Vietnam I could write one a day and never run out. There are terrible stories of young men crying out for their mothers as they drew their last breaths. Stories of civilians injured and dying. Collateral damage, they call it. It’s a term, instead of a story. A statistic of war, instead of someone’s daughter or son.
I wept thinking of that moment when Donald Trump disparaged McCain. “He’s a war hero because he was captured,” Trump remarked snidely. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
I wept because when McCain was attacked over his bumbled questioning of Comey, I knew then something was terribly wrong. I knew it in my gut. I knew it because Mama had suffered lung cancer gone to the brain. Six tumors in the brain the doctors told us that day she sat down to the computer and couldn’t read a word. It came on her just like that.
I wept hurricanes because Sister Tater has cancer now. She’s going to be fine, I know she is, but God I hate cancer and I hate that in the dark places of my heart I want cancer to only hurt the evil, mean people and leave all the good-hearted, kind people alone. My sister is a good, good person. The best kind of person. I hate that she has to deal with cancer. I want Donald Trump to have cancer instead of my sister, instead of John McCain.
I wept because my friend Ken has cancer and it isn’t an easy kind and I don’t know if he’s going to be okay and he has a brand new granddaughter who is beautiful. I want him to be around to enjoy her growing up. I wept because his daughters are scared of losing their dad, the way any of us are when that cancer diagnosis comes along. I wept buckets for my friend Linda who has breast cancer and my friend Estella who has been dealing with cancer and because it is all so damn unfair and I am tired of the bad shit happening to good people.
I wept because my friend Gordon died of cancer, the same year my dearest friend The Redhead died. I lost two of my dearest friends to cancer in 2009 and I still have not recovered from that loss and I never will. Gordon, a Vietnam veteran, called himself president of my fan club. And he was, he really was. He was a better storyteller than me and I miss Gordon’s stories of Tennessee hill people. And The Redhead? She kept a scrapbook of my book tours. When Robin Roberts interviewed me on Good Morning America, The Redhead took photos of the TV just so I could have that keepsake. She urged everyone to read my stories, even the hard ones. Every writer needs cheerleaders, people who believe in their work, and The Redhead was mine. When she called to tell me the breast cancer had returned, was now in her bones, I went into my closet and shut the door. I sat on the floor in my closet and wept hurricanes that day. She has grandchildren now, grandchildren she never met. They are precious and sweet and she would have loved to be here for them. And while she might be happy with Jesus, it still saddens me beyond measure that she’s not here to enjoy her grandchildren.
I wept because my friend Agnes died of lung cancer. I sat at her bedside during one of her first hospital admissions and held her hand and saw the fear in her eyes. We read Scriptures and prayed together. I had lived with Agnes when I first moved to Oregon. She taught me how to be a mother. She also taught me how to bake bread. She had been a war refugee as a child. Her father died in World War II. Her family fled Germany and relocated to Canada because back then and even today, Canada doesn’t turn away refugees of war. We shared that loss, Agnes and I, both girls who grew up longing for fathers lost to war.
I wept for my friend Terry McGregor whose funeral I attended just a couple of months ago. Terry died of a cancerous brain tumor. Terry was a little boy growing up in Idaho when his dad was killed in Vietnam. Terry became my forever friend when he reached out to me. He was the first person I met other than my own siblings whose father had also died in Vietnam. Terry and I shared so many great memories of camping, of traveling, of motorcycle journeys, of Angels games. I miss being able to pick up the phone and call Terry. I was at Terry’s house when I agreed to let HarperCollins publish the memoir of my father’s death. Terry was every bit as thrilled as I was. I miss Terry. I miss him everyday.
Here’s one true thing I know – Senator John McCain would have made a much better president than Trump. McCain should have been president. He’s lived his entire life in service to this country. He understands the Constitution. He understands what it means to be a public servant. He understands what it means to sacrifice. He would have brought honor to this nation. I grieve that so many people thought Trump a more worthy person.
My heart hurts for John McCain and his family. I pray for God’s presence to be theirs during this hard, hard time.
My heart hurts for all of us, for a nation of people who settled for a fool when they could have chosen an honorable man.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer University Press).