John S. McCain III is gone. And along with him the direct effect of his noble qualities on our nation’s affairs. These traits are the American ideals, of which he was the protagonist during the years when his party had cast them aside. Far too complex to easily understand, here are a few. He was devoted to causes greater than himself. Courageously going into harms way as a Navy pilot, shot down, five+ years of torture as a POW which he endured with grace.

John McCain was tireless, fair, happy, funny, good company. A Republican WASP he made close friendships from widely diverse backgrounds. From a Russian dissident to an Oklahoman of Mexican descent to an African-American pro-footbal star to a Jewish Democrat Senator he unsuccessfully sought as VP running mate.

In these times of vitriolic uncivility, his respect for others – for human dignity – seemed almost anomalous. He was able to reach across the aisle and develop the trust of and working relationships with members of the other party.

He sought to unite.

A formidable foe, John McCain could be forgiving and magnanimous. Even to those who frustrated his bids for the presidency and his former Vietnamese tormentors.

There was honor and honesty. A dedication to doing the right thing. Right in terms of intrinsic merit. Not according to political party dogmas, which he defied in order to defend or advance the interests of ordinary folks.

He had a strong, abiding faith that allowed him to always look forward with confidence.

For all his nobility John McCain was far from perfect. But he had the honesty and humility to admit mistakes.

May this be a teaching moment where McCain’s ennobling qualities are restored to prominence in our national culture. And, like a breath of fresh air in an outhouse, take hold in the Congress where he was a giant among, mostly, dwarfs.

Who is to become the protagonist of the next chapter ? To those who ask, the answer boomerangs, along the lines of the reply to the inquiry “for whom the bells toll” from McCain’s favorite Hemingway novel: “it tolls for you.” We have been charged by John McCain to grasp and hold high the torch of decency from his faltering hands.

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