Tony Snow, R.I.P. (“Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant”)

In the end, what do we really have but the legacy we leave and the glory of God that we imperfectly reflect?

Tony Snow has reached the end of his battle with cancer.

Tony Snow, the former White House press secretary and conservative pundit who bedeviled the press corps and charmed millions as a FOX News television and radio host, died after a long bout with cancer. He was 53.

A syndicated columnist, editor, TV anchor, radio show host and musician, Snow worked in nearly every medium in a career that spanned more than 30 years.

“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of our dear friend, Tony Snow,” President Bush said in a statement. “The Snow family has lost a beloved husband and father. And America has lost a devoted public servant and a man of character.”

Snow died at 2 a.m. Saturday at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Tony Snow lived his life with a cheerful, energetic awareness of its transience — both before and after his cancer diagnosis. He didn’t have to change who he was when he learned of the illness that took his life. He was already there.

Of course Tony Snow leaves a political legacy, but there’s a reason why I’m not focusing on that right now. I honestly believe that his legacy as a man of faith, and as a man who faced cancer with optimism and bravery, will outshine his political legacy in the end. Anyone can be a press secretary — and Tony Snow was a great one — but Tony Snow was well centered and well grounded in life’s most important values before, during, and at the end of his cancer battle.

If you want a feel for what I believe is Tony Snow’s most important legacy, read the full text of Tony Snow’s commencement address to The Catholic University of America, a speech he gave after he had a recurrence of cancer. I’ve called it a “home run of the heart.” I’ll leave you with a few excerpts in Tony’s own words:

You begin to confront the truly overwhelming question: Why am I here? And that begins to open up the whole universe, because it impels you to think like the child staring out at the starry night: “Who put the lights in the sky? Who put me here? Why?” And pretty soon you are thinking about God. Don’t shrink from pondering God’s role in the universe or Christ’s. You see, it’s trendy to reject religious reflection as a grave offense against decency. That’s not only cowardly. That’s false. Faith and reason are knitted together in the human soul. So don’t leave home without either one.

. . . . American culture likes to celebrate the petulant outcast, the smart-aleck with the contempt for everything and faith in nothing. Snarky mavericks. The problem is these guys are losers. They have signed up for an impossible mission. Because they’ve decided they’re going to create all the meaning in their lives. They’ve either decided that no moral law exists or they will be the creator, the author of those laws. Now one road leads to complete and total anarchy. Life is solitary, nasty, brutish and short. The other is to insanity, since it requires playing God. We know in our hearts, intuitively, from our first years as children, that the universe unfolds with a discernable order and that moral laws, far from being convenient social conventions, are firm and unalterable. They predate us, they will survive us. Rather than admitting our weakness a lot of times, we just decide we’ll try to get by. And maybe rather than giving God credit, we’ll try to look for a cheap substitute.

Walk into a bookstore, you’ll know what I mean. The shelves are groaning underneath the trendy tomes promising salvation — medicine balls, herbs, purges, all sorts of weird stuff. In politics, there’s a variant that elevates government to the status of God. It says that it is the source of love. It ought to be the recipient of your tithes, but government, while it does pursue compassionate ends, cannot be loving and personal. It treats all of us as completely equal rather than uniquely divine. The point is you can’t escape the question of God and you can’t escape the question of commitments.

When it comes to faith, I’ve taken my own journey. You will have to take your own. But here’s what I know. Faith is as natural as the air we breathe. Religion is not an opiate, just the opposite. It is the introduction to the ultimate extreme sport. There is nothing that you can imagine that God cannot trump. As Paul said “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And once you realize that there is something greater than you out there, then you have to decide, “Do I acknowledge it and do I act upon it?” You have to at some point surrender yourself. And there is nothing worthwhile in your life that will not at some point require an act of submission. It’s true of faith and friendship. It is a practical passage [of the Bible], especially to marriage.

Tolstoy once said all happy marriages are happy in the same way and here’s what he meant. When both people commit, when they say, “You and I are bound together, forever, period, no questions, no codicils, no pre-nups, no escape clauses,” then all of a sudden, the temptations become irrelevant, and the glories become possible.

There is nothing like the pleasure of being a parent. Waking up the next morning to somebody whose breath has become the echo of your heartbeat. Trust me on this, it does not get any better. Commit.

. . . . Finally, love. How trite is that? But it’s everything. It separates happiness from misery. It separates the full life from the empty life. To love is to acknowledge that life is not about you. I want you to remember that: It’s not about you. It’s a hard lesson. A lot of people go through life and never learn it. It’s to submit willingly, heart and soul, to things that matter. Love is not melodrama. You don’t purchase it, you don’t manufacture it. You build it.

Every time I buy something gaudy for my wife she says, “Oh that’s nice,” and then it goes away someplace. The love letters she keeps; I don’t know where the jewelry is.

Love springs from small deeds, the gestures that say casually and naturally “I care.” That acknowledge what’s special about somebody else. If somebody’s smarter, quicker, better, prettier, wiser than you, tell them. Learn from them. Don’t be jealous. Glory in it.

. . . . Think not only of what it means to love but what it means to be loved. I have a lot of experience with that. Since the news that I have cancer again, I have heard from thousands and thousands of people and I have been the subject of untold prayers. I’m telling you right now: You’re young [and you feel] bullet-proof and invincible. [But] never underestimate the power of other people’s love and prayer. They have incredible power. It’s as if I’ve been carried on the shoulders of an entire army. And they had made me weightless. The soldiers in the army just wanted to do a nice thing for somebody. As I mentioned, a lot of people — everybody out here — wants to do that same thing.

To love is to place others before you and to make their needs your priority. Do it. When you put somebody else at the center of the frame, your entire world changes, and for the better. You begin to find your own place in the world. When you’re drawn into the lives of others, you enter their problems, their hopes, their dreams, their families. They whisk you down unimagined corridors, toward possibilities that had been hidden to you before. So resolve to do little things for others. You don’t know where they’re going to lead but then again, you don’t have any idea where your life is going to lead. When I was your age, I had long hair, a beard and thought of myself as a socialist. You are going to pinball all over the place, from experience to experience, job to job. And I want you to remember that you’ve got company. And that if you engage them with heart and mind, with faith and energy, you are going to find yourself on a cresting wave. It’ll carry you forward and it’ll push you under water from time to time. And some day in the dim and distant future, when you’re looking back at it, you’re not going to think about your car or your career or your gold watch. You’ll think about a chewed-up teddy bear you had as a baby or maybe your child’s smile on a special Christmas morning. The only things that are sure to endure are the artifacts of love. So go out and build as many as you can.

And finally this: Wherever you are and whatever you do, never forget at this moment, and every moment forward, you have a precious blessing. You’ve got the breath of life. No matter how lousy things may seem, you’ve got the breath of life. And while God doesn’t promise tomorrow, he does promise eternity.

Let me make a confession: I’ve never been happier than I am today, not because I got this wonderful, fancy degree. But because the tips that I’ve been sharing with you are leading me toward my next graduation.

Flip the tassle to the other side, Tony. You’ve graduated, and we couldn’t be prouder.

Cross-posted at GINA COBB

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