As we approach the 13th anniversary of the passing of President Ronald Reagan, many of us are still reluctant to let him go – from our hearts, from our minds, and from the very fabric of our great nation.
In the extended wake of a tumultuous presidential election cycle, some feel the entire country is in disarray. President Reagan came into office at a similar time, when our most cherished institutions were under threat and the country had fallen into a malaise, convinced that its best days were behind it. Yet Ronald Reagan took a fractured country that doubted itself and gave it something to believe in again. I can’t help but wonder what he would say about our world if he were alive today. I want his warmth and charisma, wisdom and humor, to give stability to our unsteadiness and return our country to its values, and revive its optimism, ingenuity, and patriotism, as he did once before. Oh, how we still miss him.
Though we didn’t want to accept it, when Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004, we had to let him go. He had always been there, even as he faded. His presence alone had given us strength; his life added purpose and meaning and calm. His leadership had inspired us, changed us, taught us, and challenged us.
I realized on the day of the president’s passing that not only were we reluctantly saying goodbye to a man who many loved and respected, we were also saying goodbye to a piece of ourselves. We loved Ronald Reagan because we loved ourselves and we loved America when he was president.
We still want to be proud of ourselves and proud of our country and now have to make that happen without him. But we have all the tools we need in order to do so. In giving to us first, Ronald Reagan gave us everything we would need to give back to each other, to our country, and to the world.
Yet now, 13 years after his death, I am embracing a painful reality—not only have I not gotten over the loss of his life in mine, but we as a nation have not yet gotten over this man and his impact on all of our lives, and we never will. And we don’t want to.
I believe that we, as individuals and as Americans, not only don’t want to get over Ronald Reagan, but we want to get back to Ronald Reagan. Of course, not as our president, but as a symbol for what we can be, for the best we can be individually and the best we can be collectively.
We want to get back to principled leadership and get back to optimism, vision, faith, civility, and confidence in ourselves and in our united purpose. We want to get back to the place where government works for We the People, not against We the People; get back to being a beacon of freedom that brings light and direction to dark corners of the globe where oppression still exists; and get back to being proud of who we are domestically and on the world stage. And he has already given us everything we need to do so.
Ronald Reagan left a piece of himself in each of our lives and in our hearts—a memory from watching a televised speech, a warm handshake in person, or an autographed photo in the mail. Perhaps it was a wave at an event or a smile into the camera you were certain was just for you. Maybe it was a quote in the newspaper you cut out and stuck to your refrigerator or placed on your desk at work as inspiration. Or a joke that made you laugh and that you loved to retell. It could have been a change in a regulation that lowered your taxes, or an improvement in the economy that helped your family and created a more prosperous and secure future for your children. It might even have been a chance to innovate that grew your business, or a dose of optimism and faith that drove you to do more, be more, build more. Or maybe he gave you, your family, or your nation of origin the ultimate gift: freedom.
We don’t just need that one man, Ronald Reagan, now again in America. But we do need his strength and ideals. And, we need everyone who was blessed and touched by that one man to bring his legacy in their lives back to their families, their workplace, their community, and the world. These separate little pieces of Ronald Reagan’s legacy that are scattered far and wide and have been held in stewardship all around the world now need to be brought back together and reassembled to reveal the beautiful mosaic of Ronald Reagan’s legacy. It exists within each one of us and could once again change the nation and inspire the world. Just as President Reagan would have wanted.
Peggy Grande, author of The President Will See You Now, was Ronald Reagan’s executive assistant during his post-presidential years.