I had the great fortune of spending a day at RootsTech, a huge family-history conference in Salt Lake City this month, where former first lady Laura Bush was one of the morning keynote speakers. Her speech was followed by a Q&A with her daughter, NBC correspondent Jenna Bush Hager.
I was able to sit in the media and blogger section, within 60 feet of the stage, I imagine—although I am notoriously terrible at estimating distances. While this photo came from the event staff instead of my own camera, this pretty closely represents my view of the stage.
I was impressed by Mrs. Bush's poise and Southern gentility. And it was heartwarming and sweet to see this young reporter ask hard-hitting questions like, "Mom, so what's it like to be the grandma of the best baby in the whole wide world?"
There were, of course, other interesting questions asked and anecdotes shared about life as the First Family, such as the night that George and Barbara Bush babysat Jenna and her twin sister Barbara at the White House the night before a presidential debate. One of the girls had misplaced a stuffed cat that she absolutely needed to fall asleep, so grandpa George and the secret service were out combing the grounds with flashlights, only to return and find both girls fast asleep.
Mrs. Bush shared the very human side of what it's like to hold on to family and relationships while living so conspicuously in the public eye. She said she's often asked if it bothered her to see her husband constantly excoriated in the press. Yes, if course it bothered her, just like it would bother anyone, but she purposefully didn't read the worst of it.
"It bothered me, but it didn't get to me. I know who I am. And I know who George is," Laura Bush said.
I loved this for two reasons. First, I have recently discovered and embraced my own personal limits when it comes to consuming negativity in the news. Some days, I just can't do it. The polarization and the vitriol in the news itself—and especially in the comments—can throw a cloud over my head that lasts for hours; I can't imagine how much worse that would be if me or my own loved ones were the direct target of the negativity. Yes, I could become cynical and hard and learn to steel myself against the onslaught, but I'd prefer to continue to be myself while placing proactive limits around the news and commentary I allow into my life.
While I believe it's important to be informed about the issues of the day, I can control how often I'm exposed to the news and what sources I choose to listen to. For me, daily—let alone hourly—is way too much. I can catch up on an entire week's worth of news in an hour, with occasional news binges when a big issue catches my eye. Often, by the time the frenzy of whatever top story is dominating the headlines has receded a bit, there's more information available and a more complete and nuanced story reported.
This is just more evidence of my suspicion—once expressed by my dad—that I was born in the wrong era. I long for a general slowing down.
Second, I want to embrace the "I know who I am" mantra for myself. Because I do know who I am, why I'm here, and what I believe—and perhaps because of that, I feel the chaos and confusion of the world acutely. I find peace and happiness within my family and in myself, and I cherish the freedom I have to make those little daily decisions that lead to inner peace.
But I also feel bombarded by the prevailing messages of the world—those that value cynicism over faith, self-indulgence over self-discipline, hedonism over humility, sarcasm over serenity.
Perhaps because of my sensitive nature, I am inordinately distressed when I see my deeply held personal views on anything (religion and politics, especially) misunderstood or mischaracterized. But such is life. People are so often unwilling to look past their own personal biases to truly see the other side's real intent, to find common ground, or to compromise.
Laura Bush was far more magnanimous about it all—as I probably would be in a speech to thousands of people—in saying that all the bluster and bloviating is nothing more than the grinding gears of democracy happening right before our eyes. The very words "bluster and bloviating" put a less menacing spin on the nature of our national discourse. It's good to remember that so much of it is just spin and political posturing.
Having lived in the White House and having faced the weight of the office and those hallowed halls inhabited by so many great men and women before them, Mrs. Bush said, "Presidents are very generally decent men, trying to do their best with their breathtaking responsibilities." Yes, I believe that's probably true.
Other takeaways from the speech:
- Make your life how you want it to be right now.
- All we know we have is NOW. It could all change any minute, as it did after 9/11.
- Walk on the beach every chance you have.
- Read, read, read.
- When it comes to parenting, "You show them the way, and then you hope."
- It is the job of every American to step up to your own pitcher's mound and stand your ground. And stand proud.