The English language is corrupted by superlatives.
What I mean by that is whenever we try to explain or characterize things or people in the best way possible, we sometimes use words that overemphasize the positivity of said people and things. We don’t necessarily use words in the simplest forms like “good” or “nice” as much because they may seem bland and doesn’t accentuate the value of certain things like if we would say “excellent” or “fantastic” or “awesome”.
In Mark Shriver’s touching memoir about his father, Sargent Shriver, I learned that the power of being good is an enormous quality. We probably are familiar with Robert Sargent Shriver as the Kennedy in-law, who married President Kennedy’s sister Eunice, had five kids (one of whom is a famous award-winning journalist who’s currently separated from the former governor of California), and started the Peace Corps and Head Start and other public service programs.
Sargent Shriver, who died in 2011 from a long battle with Alzheimer’s, was a good man, and Mark Shriver illustrates just how good of a man he was by his personality and actions. Sargent Shriver was a man committed to his Catholic faith, his family, and helping others. He wore his faith on his sleeves. He was never overwhelmed by the Kennedy family legacy. He wasn’t seducted by the power and prestige of the limelight, even though the things that he did prompted press coverage. He handled defeats (political runs for office in the 1970s) and controversy (his son Bobby getting busted for pot) with such grace, poise, and courage. He doted on his family, calling himself, his wife of 56 years, and his children the “Lucky 7” because they were the most precious to him. In his later years, he embraced being a grandparent until his dying day. Sargent Shriver always looked at the positive rather than the negative. He saw the good in people who were mentally challenged or who were poor, and he never let us forget about that.
This book is clearly a son’s point of view of his father. Each chapter is filled with little snippets of poignant stories, especially how Sargent would leave little handwritten notes under his son’s door telling him how much he was loved by his family and God and his passion for the Baltimore Orioles. This beautifully-written book is a clear evidence that his son still idolizes his father.
One passage in the book that stuck out for me was when Mark compared Jesus dying on a cross to his father’s Alzheimer’s. Before Jesus died, he carried the cross, and it was an immense torture for him because of its weight. He was crowned with thorns, was whipped, and kept falling down, only to be helped by Simon and had his face wiped by Veronica. He experienced agony all over until his death. Alzheimer’s was Sargent Shriver’s cross. He labored with its weight and carried it until his very last day. His family and friends tried to lift that weight off by praying and supporting him. Yet he, like Jesus, knew what he was dealing with and what he was carrying.
Reading this metaphorical passage definitely hit home for me. As the niece of a loved one who’s died of Alzheimer’s and another who’s currently battling acute dementia, it’s difficult to see that person slipping away a little at a time. They are carrying that burden, that weight that they cannot control. You just have to stand by them in the good and the bad and give them the best care possible.
I strongly encourage everyone to read this book. Beneath the Alzheimer’s, Sargent Shriver was a devoted man, a family man, and a hard-working man.
He was definitely a good man — a quality that we should all strive to be.