Former U.S. Senator and First Lady Jean Carnahan was in town the other day on a book tour. Her recent book “Don’t Let the Fire Go Out” was published by the University of Missouri Press. I had met Mrs. Carnahan several years ago, had read one of her previous books and was looking forward to the opportunity to visit with this remarkable woman.
Those who have met Mrs. Carnahan already know about the charm and grace of her presence. She really is one of those people who makes you feel as if you’re the most important person she has spoken with that day. She makes you wish that someone could bottle her personality and distribute it to every politician on the planet.
She is also a wonderful writer and a great storyteller. I found that out with her other book, “Will You Say a Few Words?” The collection of photographs at the beginning of her current book speaks volumes about the warm tones of the contents.
From the book’s introduction through the tragic loss of her husband, son and friend in a plane crash, from the loss of her family home by fire to her brief stint in the Senate, her intimate delivery of the details reveals her awesome courage and demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit. She has made excellent use of her heartrending experiences to bring consolation to her fellow travelers as they tread the uncertain waters of time and circumstance. As she relates the events that have made her life, one can’t help but sense the strength of will that it took to venture into the recollection of them.
During her years in the Governor’s mansion, where she served as First Lady, I’m not sure that we Missourians appreciated her immense gifts. Her husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, (whom we now know was her childhood sweetheart) had the kind of forceful personality that tended to dominate any space surrounding him. At this point, I do need to say that although I thought Mrs. Carnahan did a fine job serving her late husband’s term in the Senate and certainly deserved to be re-elected, I admit I probably would not have attended her book-signing if she had still been in office. I don’t share her confidence in the people who represent us, and I deeply resented the way some of the media represented her candidacy. It was a case to me of the boys always being the boys, portraying the ‘little woman’ as an “also ran.” And politics in America these days has such a polarizing effect on the populace that I try to avoid getting involved with the process in any way. It’s such a pity that many fine individuals of high character are so often the victims of political scorn.
Even though she lost her bid for the Senate, she is presently working on behalf of her daughter, Robin Carnahan, in her campaign for Missouri Secretary of State and for her son, Russ Carnahan, who hopes to become the next U.S. Representative of the Third District (the seat being vacated by Rep. Richard Gephardt). She has also been named one of three co-chairs, along with former Senator Tom Eagleton and Rep. Richard Gephardt, to the Missouri Kerry-Edwards campaign. When asked if she envisions a woman as U.S. President, she offers a one-word reply, “inevitable.”
As I stood around the bookstore waiting to speak to Mrs. Carnahan, I found myself staring at the shelf of political books. You could almost put a concrete block between the authors as they are so obviously bent to either the right or the left side of the political equation. You don’t even have to read the first page to know the particular writer’s spin on the particular subject. Political debate has become so hopelessly partisan that nothing of value can be gained by listening to the participants. Add the biases of the national media, and the inquiring citizen has no place to go for straight information.
To imagine that there might possibly be some good within even our enemies and attempt to cultivate that good, in these times, would be considered unthinkable.
As far as I’m concerned Mrs. Carnahan could not have chosen a better time than now to write this book. The public venue provides so little in the way of placing importance on the benefits of generosity of spirit, on the role hope plays in overcoming obstacles or on the value of sharing community in times of trouble. This book serves the public good in a way that is seldom achieved in political oratory.
We are all changed by both our joys and our sorrows. It is the unique people who see the chance to exploit these experiences for the benefit of others.
“Don’t Let the Fire Go Out!” is good summer reading. It bolsters your spirit and gives you hope for a better tomorrow. It is the stuff that makes for new beginnings.
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