WASHINGTON — Late on a Saturday night in 2012, I received word from my sister in Mississippi that my mamma had passed away. My home was silent as my wife and two boys slept upstairs. I was reading when the sad call came.
I woke my wife to tell her; we sat on the edge of the bed and hugged. In my sadness, around midnight, I started cleaning the kitchen, likely because my mamma was always cleaning something. I also reached out to two friends.
It was within minutes that I heard back from Hillary.
Secretary Clinton joined me in my heartbreak, reminding me that she could share the pain because of the fairly recent loss of her own mother. She also told me to get to Mississippi, be with my family and take all the time I needed — because my work in Washington paled in comparison to remembering and mourning my mom and being with family.
My family and I drove home, deeper and deeper into my Southern motherland, to bury my mom. My siblings had asked me to speak for the family at the funeral, so I rode shotgun and wrote while my wife, Karen, drove.
Along the way, drafting what I consider the most important talk of my life, I again reached out to Secretary Clinton, who was engaged in one of the most grueling and intense schedules that any secretary of state had undertaken. Even so, she found the time to offer suggestions and talk me through this most personal task.
She was there for me. I often tell people that working in politics brings me into contact with the best and most challenging folks God has placed on our earth. I consider it a blessing working with and knowing Hillary Clinton.
I’ve loved every second of getting to know this woman with such strong Midwest, Methodist sensibilities, whether it’s her beginning a comment with the “discipline of prayer dictates ... “ or answering a question of mine with “Well, the method of Methodism teaches ... “ or reminding me of the value of a Sunday worshipping with my wife and children.
She taught me about what she calls “grace notes,” recently reminding me, “You know it’s a gift that is undeserved but bestowed by the everyday joys, beauties, kindnesses, pleasures of life that can strike a deep chord of connection between us and the divine and between us and the mundane. All one has to do is be open to receiving it the moment it arrives and looking for ways to pass it on.”
That’s pretty powerful. As one who has been on the receiving end of Hillary’s grace notes, I now find joy in places I once never even bothered to look. I hold a deeper compassion and understanding for those around me, thanks to Hillary.
Ultimately, Secretary Clinton is a builder, creating community, a very American community. She finds value in each person and believes in the greatness of our American community. If we are truly exceptional — and we are — it is because we don’t rest on our laurels, but we strive and work and endeavor to always be better than when we started. When knocked down, we get right back up, always building a better community.
The value of community is manifested, encouraged and sustained in many ways. Puritan John Winthrop envisioned the new America as a “city upon a hill,” deemed worthy and good through its citizens, through community. Martin Luther King Jr. preached and believed in what he called the Beloved Community.
“Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals, and joyful celebrations. ... However, community is first of all a quality of the heart,” the late Catholic spiritual writer Henri Nouwen once wrote. “It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another.”
Hillary Clinton reminds us that community is essential, and holds in esteem even the widow and her mite. Secretary Clinton shows us, through example, that community takes effort. She doesn’t just do this between the covers of a book, but also in her actions and determination to build an American community that works for everyone.
Or, as I said at mama’s eulogy: “A life lived for others is a life worthwhile. And a life lived for others creates community.”
Hillary once shared with me that she attended a wonderful Sunday school class during her years in Arkansas. She loved the people, found community, but yearned for a deeper period of study. She didn’t lament, she didn’t complain, she simply volunteered to teach the class herself, writing lessons from Scripture, largely around the golden rule.
We need someone in Washington to fix problems, to get us working together and to get us looking to the future from our shared common ground. This type of leadership needs vision and confidence — not a blustery self-confidence but a confidence in all of us, in the America we know we can be.
The Scriptures speak of leaders who arise “for such a time as this.” In such a time as this, we need the leadership, resolve, love of country and, yes, grace notes of Hillary Clinton in the White House.
(Burns Strider is a senior adviser to the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Correct The Record, and he directed faith outreach for Clinton’s 2008 campaign. A Southern Baptist from Mississippi, Strider is founder and principal of the Eleison Group, a faith-based political, governmental and nonprofit consulting firm.)
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