The announcement Thursday morning that George H. W. Bush would be celebrating his 90th birthday by jumping out of an airplane was, at first, a bit unsettling. This wasn’t, after all, the case of a freakishly healthy nonagenarian showing off his prowess. In recent years, Bush has declined noticeably, losing the use of his legs and enduring a seven-week hospitalization for respiratory problems. People as physically frail as Bush shouldn’t take such risks. When Bush completed the jump with no apparent injuries, much of America breathed a sigh of relief.
So why did he do it? The explanation by friends and neighbors in southern Maine was this: Joy of life. He was showing that his sense of adventure is undiminished by age. He was also demonstrating the advantages of a positive attitude: Few Americans of any age radiate as much big-hearted goodwill as the 41st president, whose expansive spirit bridges partisan divides.
But a more persuasive answer seemed buried in the news reports: As a Navy bomber pilot, Bush made his first jump during World War II. He survived the type of plane crash that killed many of his comrades. Now, seven decades later, he’s not just celebrating his survival; he’s telling those comrades that he’s still thinking of them, and honoring all that they went through together. That’s a message that Bush, who sometimes steers away from intensely emotional subjects for fear of tearing up, would probably prefer to remain unspoken. But it resonated through the skies of Maine yesterday morning.