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The American Way of Death

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My fellow Americans,

 

I’ve gone back and forth over how to begin this message, who to dedicate it to – what to say? It’s been a challenge, but you know that I have always tackled those head-on, so let’s just get to it! I, Selina Meyer – your 45th President – am on the brink and, well, it is wild. Pondering the voyage ahead, I have to take stock and reflect on the life I’ve left behind me.  At my birth, my parents could not have imagined the path I would forge for myself, or the heights I would reach, as the leader of not just our beloved United States, but the entire free world. Taking in the whole magnificent vista now, after my death, let me tell you: I astonish even myself.  What is more, you, the American people, frankly astound me. Looking back, it’s clear that you were responsible for irrevocably changing the course of my life on countless occasions, so it feels natural to address you again in this moment, as I did so many times as your legitimately-elected President.

Dying yourself does, it may surprise you to learn, have its benefits. It has completely changed my perspective on life and I would like to take the time that I have to share some thoughts, and, if I flatter myself, some wisdom about the Presidency and politics in America, and being – or not being! It might be difficult for you to understand fully, but being President is very hard. And, now that admitting weakness cannot be used against me any more, it’s safe to admit that it’s lonely too. In that high office, you feel the ghostly presence of its former occupants watching, and judging your every move. History literally has its eyes on you, and you had better keep your eye on it too. In both directions. Before you’ve even left the Oval for the last time, you have to imagine how your actions will affect your legacy; and before you’ve even had the chance to die, you will see others define it for you. Well, I am not going to stand for that.

I got used to unique experiences, after all, it is the stock-in-trade of a serving POTUS. Yet eventually receiving foreign dignitaries and cultural figures, attending glamorous functions, and making state visits does get tiring. I assure you, the ceremonial aspects are the least interesting part of the job and actually waste a lot of Presidential time. (I learnt the value of delegating much of that responsibility from my time serving as VP to Stuart Hughes. I was fortunate to be able to do the same myself, once I ascended to the Presidency. Many people did say that my Vice-President’s most significant asset was his charm.) Of course, my Presidency was more unique than most. As the first woman to attain the Office, it is only right (and a testament to my perserverance) that I should be the first among the Presidents not to be inconvenienced by Death.

It used to be that you could just throw up a statue or memorial, or name a street after yourself and immortality was yours. I’m here to tell you the uncomfortable truths, to be as transparent now as I was when I was alive: times have changed. Presidents have to work much harder, and receive much less recognition. (It is a sad fact, but public service has become degraded and devalued in our society. And the rot had set in when I was President.) Besides, the trend of the last 20 years to tear down statues means you cannot be sure of resting on your laurels – even in death. Historians these days move the goalposts on you too, continually re-assessing, re-evaluating and re-appraising. There’s very little effort put into it to praise as far as I’m concerned. I see no reason why I should be silent just because I stopped depending on oxygen.

Which reminds me: so much importance is attached to your final moments when you are President. Your last words are considered weighty, legacy-defining things. If you want to be remembered well, then you had better put some thought into them. You would not believe the number of times I was asked what I wanted mine to be. I mean, more than anything it’s just rude. Personally, I think their significance tends to get overstated. Washington’s were ‘Tis well’, that’s not exactly profound. What was he doing, playing eye-spy? As to the Presidents who spoke of going to spend time with their families? Thankfully my daughter’s not likely to pass away any time soon. She’s too vigorous and healthy. I know that I forfeited my right to be a private citizen the first moment I took public office, but if I could have one private moment for myself, to take to my grave, it would be the end. After all, we’re all alone then, aren’t we? Regardless, my last mortal words were not my last words, nor will they be my lasting words. I do not intend these immortal words to be my last words either, I still have plenty to do, and much more to say. It should be my right to present the definitive record of my Presidency and to determine my place in History. To have the last word, but also the right to go first, so to speak. I trust that you will understand that.

I did wonder whether perhaps it would be better to begin at the beginning of my life. The idea of rewriting my memoirs now that I don’t have to worry about being sued for libel was a very tempting one. No-one reaches my position in international politics and diplomacy without holding their tongue, a lot. I have heard of posthumous ones being successful, though I can’t now remember where, but I don’t think there can be much truth in it. Despite the potential satisfaction of saying that this version would be ghost-written, I have decided that it would be better just to let lying dogs sleep.

However, what I can offer you is a unique perspective: if hindsight is 20:20, piercing the veil is like Lasik. The moment of death, as unexpected as it may have been, was clarifying. What if I had been able to choose my time myself? Well, it is difficult to say how I would feel. I had too much left to accomplish in life to ever consider leaving it behind. The end had to come though; I had to let it happen, things had to change. All I can say is that I was pleased not to overshadow other important observances in our national calendar. Dr King  Jr’s day is his own. While I blazed many trails in the course of my career, I would not have wanted my death to draw focus on International Women’s Day. In fact, I think it will be vital to future progress in this country that we recognise the contribution of women to the nation properly, by celebrating Women Presidents Day. As the first, it would be appropriate, and only natural, to mark it with my passing. I think we can all agree that by this point it would have been far too cliché to die on the Fourth of July. I couldn’t make an end like John Adams’ anyway, because there was no-one on my level to rival me. Besides, I always thought it was difficult to look dignified at a funeral in the height of summer.

Speaking of funerals, it was my bittersweet duty to attend many, to bury and to praise the distinguised citizens who shape our country, during the course of my public service. However, taking an interest in one’s own funeral always seemed improper to me. I was too busy to plan such things while I lived. Even though co-ordinating a global event of this scale requires a lot of planning, I find protocol is often just another obstruction. As a sometime Commander in Chief I think internment at Arlington would have been fitting, and deserved. Being buried there with my father would have meant a great deal to me personally too, but I loved Maryland too well for it not to be my final resting place. At the end of the day, and assuming the proper care and attention has been paid, my body will rest peacefully knowing that no worms will disturb its integrity, just as there was no disturbance to my integrity in life.

I was saddened not to see more of my colleagues – and, dare I say it? – friends, there to pay their respects at my funeral. (One thing I can thank my parents for is being blessed with a strong constitution. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I was often complimented on looking younger than my age.) I suppose that it is the unfortunate effect of outlasting so many of my political contemporaries. A lasting regret which I take with me is that the sad state of public health in this country means that men simply do not live up to their life expectancies. Some might think it morbid for a person to observe their own funeral, but I have always been a strong believer in the value of personal connections. Painful as it may be, we must honour the grief of others. Humbly accepting the tributes of the people is the highest duty a public servant can perform, so I was willing to let my death be swallowed up in that small victory. While I take some time to order my thoughts at least, before I take that next leap into the vast unknown.