During recent visits to South Carolina much of the news had been dominated by the failing health and near death of Sen. Strom Thurmond. From reading the reports, you would have thought that the man was confined to a wheelchair, barely able to function, incapable of uttering a single sentence.
It is no secret that the senator has had a phenomenal influence on me, personally and professionally. I continue to see him as my adoptive grandfather. So last Thursday, I decided to see just how disengaged, feeble and disconnected this man had become.
I called him and his secretary, Holly, put him on the phone. He was so happy to hear my voice. We decided to meet for the afternoon.
I arrived at his office at 2:09 p.m. and, at 2:11, I stood before the senator for an exclusive interview. He stood up and hugged me with a soft, tender embrace and said,
"Son, it is good to see you."
"How is you mama, Thelma?" he asked.
"Senator she's celebrating her 75th birthday in April," I replied.
"She's young," he joked. (Compared to him, I suppose she is.) "Let me give you a gift for her," he said, plucking a letter opener from his drawer and handing it over.
"I know you miss your father. How long has he been gone, 15 years?" he asked.
"Actually, 16," I replied.
"Oh, I'm sorry, excuse my manners." The senator then leaned forward: " I think the House is going to give the president his first major victory by passing the tax cuts. With the economy slowing, it's important to put money back in the hands of the people, to help stimulate the economy. I mean, you can either raise taxes or put money back in the pockets of people and let them stimulate the economy.
I've always trusted the people in such matters. It's going to be a bit more difficult in the Senate, but I'm holding meetings and doing what I can. In the end, though, I think the Senate will give the president what he wants," assured Thurmond.
Then he turned to his chief of staff, Duke Short, and said, "Please keep me apprised of what's going on in the House. I want to monitor it closely."
"Senator, you need to slow down and delegate more to your staff," I said.
"It's a given that I delegate, at my age. ... I can't do all the things I did when I was 80, so I do find myself delegating more. But I feel, out of duty, that the people of South Carolina chose me as their senator. Out of duty, commitment and faithfulness to the people, I need to do as much as I can. I still feel that my office is the best when it comes to constituent service. And no matter what we do, we can never do enough. There are still people suffering in this country. Your work never ends."
If you know the senator, you understand that he is one of the few politicians who will not tell you a lie. So when I asked him about his health and the fact that he will be 100 in less than two years, I was moved by his response. He grabbed my hand and said, "son," a tear welling in his eye, "some people thank God for every day. I thank him for every second. When I wake up in the morning, sometimes I pinch myself and just get out of bed laughing, because I'm still here.
I have some bad days, some sick days, some challenging days, some days where I just don't want to get up, but I do. In the end, I realize God has been really merciful in my life. I can't do most of the things I used to do. But I don't wear contact lenses, I'm not subjected to a hearing aid, don't have to use a wheelchair or walking cane, I can still do my two-mile walk, I'm still stretching and I still have the appetite of a horse. Somehow or another, I find myself in my office just about every day and I'm thankful. When people want to write me off or dismiss me, I think of Abraham and Sarah in the Bible and how God blessed them in their ripe old age."
I went on to ask him who he would like to see replace him in the Senate.
"It's the people's seat and they choose whomever they want," he replied in a commanding voice.
I also was struck by the tremendous respect and deference that his staff showed him. They do not treat him as a man hobbled by age, but as a senator busy trying to improve the quality of life in his home state of South Carolina.
After spending about an hour with the senator I came to the realization that while he is indeed old and moves perhaps a bit slower than at the sprite age of 80, he certainly is not on his death bed. With authority, he maintains his staff and his faculties. The only conclusion I can come to is truly, God has his hands on this man and still has purpose for him. That purpose is yet undone. When it is complete, God and only God will sound the trumpet and declare, "Strom, it is time for you to come home."