Requiem for an Age

Defender of the little ones. Since the passing of Senator John McCain on Saturday, that snippet of a prayer has been rattling around in my head.

I don't do politics. Period. I place my bet ... I mean, cast my vote ... based on what I can gather about a candidate's character, through all of the garbage with which our system of elections and government is cluttered and clogged up.

There is, after all, a responsibility that comes with the decision to accept or seek out public office. It's supposed to be a sacrifice, not an aspiration.

I couldn't give a flying fig what party, platform, or talking points someone espouses. I only care whether, in daily decisions or when all hell breaks loose, I think I can have some faith that the individual will make morally driven and spiritually guided choices, even if those choices may lead to that person's complete political ruin.

What prayers the person says don't matter to me. But if, in a given situation, that person believes that the best course of action is to bomb something into a parking lot, for example, I'd like to think that the decision involved some consultation with a power greater than him- or herself. 

Senator McCain gave that impression. He was a politician and owned up in many interviews to having chosen expediency or popularity in the interest of vote-getting, despite compromising his personal values in the process. He also owned up to knowing that he hadn't made the right choice in those cases.

And he was a dominant presence in our nation's leadership from the time I was about 9 onward. One of the last relics of an age when character and integrity were still qualities we expected to see worn on someone's sleeve, or written on their forehead, even when they waded into the quicksand of politics.

Case in point: For all that the senator was known as a supporter of the military and an outspoken patriot, as a former prisoner of war and survivor of torture, as a man who stood up for his political opponent, and as a statesman who worked for what he thought was right, regardless of the party affiliation from whence an idea came ... he was also a staunch believer in the need to protect basic freedoms and opportunities for people around the world. 

"Human rights exist above the state and beyond history," he wrote in a New York Times op-ed last year. "They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be extinguished."

As just one way of living that ideal, Senator McCain was among the most steadfast voices speaking out for the well-being of the Baha'is in Iran. He was also aware, even before most American Baha'is become aware, that our coreligionists were under threat beyond Iran's borders. 

In video from an event in Arizona in 2010, a member of the audience thanked the senator for his cosponsorship of senate resolutions condemning the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran and asking him to continue his support.

"I know that many of you are more familiar with the Baha'i religion than I am, but I know something about it. And I know it's the gentlest of religions," Senator McCain responded. "How anyone could believe that people of the Baha'i Faith could pose a threat to anybody, given the tenets of their faith, is something that I have never been able to comprehend. So, I understand that the persecution of Baha'i people is not only the case in Iran, but it's also the case in some other countries, as well."

Which brings me back to defender of the little ones.

It's part of the praise offered to God at the end of a prayer written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in his rooms in Akka, now at the northern edge of Israel, in a 1917 tablet addressed to the Baha'is living in the western United States. In context, it follows a supplication for God to support the reader, who is "single, alone and lowly," in offering service and Divine wisdom.

There must have been something in the water in Arizona, Senator McCain. Thank you for your service. Thank you for defending the little ones.