Monday, August 09, 2004

Peaks and valleys

Thirty years ago today, Richard Nixon became the first American president to resign from office. Some in the country were glad to see him go. Others looked on in disbelief.

It was difficult not to think of that long ago defeat last week after covering a few local campaigns on Election Night (Aug. 5) here in Knox Vegas. Politicians are strange birds. By running for public office, they open themselves up to an extremely public success --- or an extremely public defeat. One can only speculate what that must do to a person's psyche.

Last week, Halls High teacher Tim Reeves and I sat quietly at Inskip Pool as the returns filed in for the 2nd district school board race. Patsy Vittetoe, a veteran educator in the Knox County School System, was running to replace outgoing board member Paul Kelley. She had the experience and the local contacts; her challenger, Indya Kincannon, a newcomer to the area, had youth and a background in budgets.

Surrounded by family, friends and members of her church, Vittetoe remained upbeat, even as returns begin signaling that her defeat was near. As twilight began to descend, Reeves and I quietly made our way to the door.

Vittetoe hugged Reeves, a longtime family friend. It was Reeves who couldn't fight back the tears.

"Thank you," she said, taking my hand. Thank you very much." She gave me a hug and was gone.

Peaks and valleys are an inevitable part of life. No one, not even those hated New York Yankees, can win all of the time. Winning, if it goes on long enough, becomes boring.

Losing is a bit more real and tends to create a situation in which a person is really tested. It is also often when a person's true character is revealed.

"For only if you've ever been in the deepest valley," Nixon said at his farewell thirty years ago, "can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain."

Think back, if you'll forgive the sports reference, to the early years of the New York Mets. They were an abysmal team, to be kind. That first year, 1962, they lost 120 games, still a modern day major league record. The sorry team even had a catcher for awhile who was ultimately traded for himself back to the Cleveland Indians.

And yet this horrible team, utterly dreadful in nearly every way, consistently drew more fans than the Yankees, who won the World Series in 1962.

Perhaps it is because, as the writer Roger Angell once said, there's much more losing in life than winning. And as painful as it is for this Atlanta Braves fan to admit, there is, in the end, much more Mets than Yankees in all of us.

And that is, after all, how is should be. Winning is wonderful. There is no greater high than experiencing a perfect ending to a perfect day.

But what makes such rare days so special is remembering the times when things didn't go perfectly for us, when the sun set on a day when all of one's dreams, it seems, were turned into ashes and scattered like toys around the yard.

Even Nixon redeemed himself in the end somewhat. By the time he passed away in 1994, he had become not only an elder statesman, but in the words of the late historian Stephen Ambrose, had become a beloved elder statesmen. Yet another comeback from the enigmatic Quaker from Yorba Linda, California.

He knew better than anyone that one can't get to the peak without first walking through the valley. And that sometimes you have to wait until the evening to see just how splendid the day has been.


Blogger Brian Hornback said...

What a great tribute to President Nixon, I only wish people would study the man and quit acting like he was some corrupt, disgraceful president - those descriptors belong to William Jefferson Clinton from Hope, Arkansas. Nixon Now! more than ever.

3:30 PM  
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