RIP, Tony Snow
Tony Snow died today, at age 53, of cancer. We remember his family in our prayers as we pay tribute to the memory of a wonderful man.
Kathryn Jean Lopez
Several selections from Snow’s writings about Reagan, Parting Thoughts on the Ultimate Sacrifice, and Message to GOPers.
Finally, Snow wrote a poignant and powerful article last year entitled Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings: When you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change where he discussed his cancer:
Blessings arrive in unexpected packages—in my case, cancer.
Those of us with potentially fatal diseases—and there are millions in America today—find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God’s will. Although it would be the height of presumption to declare with confidence What It All Means, Scripture provides powerful hints and consolations.
The first is that we shouldn’t spend too much time trying to answer the why questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can’t someone else get sick? We can’t answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.
I don’t know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is—a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.
But despite this—because of it—God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don’t know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face.
Second, we need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere.
To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life—and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many nonbelieving hearts—an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to live—fully, richly, exuberantly—no matter how their days may be numbered.
Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease—smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see—but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension—and yet don’t. By his love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.
‘You Have Been Called’
Picture yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has begun to wear away. A doctor stands at your feet; a loved one holds your hand at the side. “It’s cancer,” the healer announces.
The natural reaction is to turn to God and ask him to serve as a cosmic Santa. “Dear God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler.” But another voice whispers: “You have been called.” Your quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter—and has dragged into insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our “normal time.”…
The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.
There’s nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue—for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do.
Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. He cried for Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf.
We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us—that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God’s love for others. Sickness gets us partway there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy. A minister friend of mine observes that people suffering grave afflictions often acquire the faith of two people, while loved ones accept the burden of two people’s worries and fears.
Learning How to Live
Most of us have watched friends as they drifted toward God’s arms not with resignation, but with peace and hope. In so doing, they have taught us not how to die, but how to live. They have emulated Christ by transmitting the power and authority of love…
[Snow’s best friend, dying of cancer several years ago] gift was to remind everyone around him that even though God doesn’t promise us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity—filled with life and love we cannot comprehend—and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms.
Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?
When our faith flags, he throws reminders in our way. Think of the prayer warriors in our midst. They change things, and those of us who have been on the receiving end of their petitions and intercessions know it.
It is hard to describe, but there are times when suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit. Somehow you just know: Others have chosen, when talking to the Author of all creation, to lift us up—to speak of us!
This is love of a very special order. But so is the ability to sit back and appreciate the wonder of every created thing. The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the ineluctable touch of God.
What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don’t know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place—in the hollow of God’s hand.
RIP, Tony Snow.
Snow’s 2007 commencement address at Catholic University
…I’ll remember Tony Snow more for his character than his career. I’ll especially remember the calm courage and cheerful optimism he displayed in his last three years, in the face of his fatal illness.
For quite a while now, optimism has had a bad reputation in intellectual circles. The fashionable books of my youth — and they are good books — were darkly foreboding ones like Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and George Orwell’s “1984.” Young conservatives of the era were much taken by Whittaker Chambers’s gloomy memoir, “Witness.” We who read Albert Camus — and if you had any pretensions to being a non-Marxist intellectual, you read Camus — loved the melancholy close of his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
The basic attitude one derived from these works was that pessimism is deeper than optimism, and existential angst more profound than cheerful confidence. This attitude remains powerful, perhaps dominant, among many thoughtful people today — perhaps especially among conservatives, reacting against a facile liberal belief in progress.
Tony Snow was a conservative. But he didn’t have a prejudice in favor of melancholy. His deep Christian faith combined with his natural exuberance to give him an upbeat world view. Watching him, and so admiring his remarkable strength of character in the last phase of his life, I came to wonder: Could it be that a stance of faith-grounded optimism is in fact superior to one of worldly pessimism or sophisticated fatalism?
Tony was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet — kind, helpful and cheerful. But underlying these seemingly natural qualities was a kind of choice: the choice of gratitude. Tony thought we should be grateful for what life has given us, not bitter or anxious about what it hasn’t.
So he once wrote that “If you think Independence Day is America’s defining holiday, think again. Thanksgiving deserves that title, hands-down.” He believed that gratitude, not self-assertion, was the fundamental human truth, and that a recognition of this was one of the things that made America great…
…Tony was a fascinating type. He was, literally, the opposite of a paranoid. He was a “pro-noid.” He assumed people liked him. It is a rare quality for any person. It is almost unheard-of in Washington. Tony lived a wonderful life in large measure because he believed the universe was on his side, and it was. Until it wasn’t…
…From the start I could see that Tony was blessed not just with brains and great looks — he had a far rarer virtue: God gave him the most superior temperament I’ve ever seen in a man of his prominence. Unfailingly gracious, sweet, and genuine, he was always a pleasure to be around. We kept in touch over the years and when he was hit by cancer, the entire world saw that what had at first seemed like just niceness was something far more, something approaching greatness. Constantly dismissive of his woes and worries, steadfast in his faith in a loving God, he bore his affliction with a most surpassing grace…
…He had a uniquely jovial demeanor; he got along with people of all political persuasions; he treated everyone with respect; he was deeply knowledgeable in all matters with which he would deal and a quick study as to the limited others; he was a fierce advocate for positions he believed in — and most of those aligned nicely with this administration’s; and his verbal agility was unparalleled. Even in fierce debate, he was always of good cheer.
But in my opinion, Tony’s greatest attributes were his genuineness and authenticity, his impeccable character, his abundant decency as a human being, his likability, his work ethic and, most of all, his profoundly held life priorities, beginning with his paramount and unshakable commitments to God and family.
Many have already spoken of Tony’s consuming love for his wife and children and his passion for God. I am but another firsthand witness to his “walking the walk” and, like so many others, greatly admired him for it.
People tend to say very nice things about people who pass away — and that is as it should be; it’s the right thing to do. But be assured in Tony’s case, all the eulogies you are hearing about and reading are heartfelt and utterly without reservation. Tony was the real article — he and the life he led were examples to which we should all aspire…
…He was an amazing man who gave the impression he had all the time in the world for everyone he met. Which, of course, was the one thing he didn’t have…
…the quality that most struck me then about Tony, whom I hadn’t met before, was not his energy and enthusiasm (which were wonderful—”a breath of fresh air” is quite right) but his deep and intensely cheerful curiosity.
In his first week in the job [as White House press secretary], I made the mistake of sending Tony a half page of “talking points” about an issue I was charged with that was likely to come up that day. This was how his predecessor had preferred to get information from the policy staff. I quickly got a call from Snow saying that was all very nice, but why don’t we talk in some detail instead about what had happened, the background, the people involved, the history, the parts reporters may not know about that ought to shape our response…it was also one of the most peculiar telephone conversations I’ve ever had. We didn’t know each other when he called, and by the end of that fifteen or twenty minute conversation, he not only knew all about the issue in question, he knew all about me, my family, and my life, and I knew more about him than I do about some people I’ve known for years. Needless to say, in that afternoon’s briefing, when the subject did come up, Tony batted the question out of the park, putting things much better than I had on the phone.
…it became clear that he wanted to learn everything he could not only so that he could speak with some depth and authority to the press…but also because he himself was moved by a love of the little details and the big stories. This was an important part of his infectious enthusiasm. His love of life and his amazement at our country had to do with an appreciation for how the little pieces added up, and what extraordinary things happen here every day. His deep reserve of principle, love, and faith was never far from the surface, and he drew on it easily and often, even as the surface was always bubbling with excitement, confidence, and optimism…
Live life until you can no longer. “Every moment’s a blessing.” Tony’s moments with us are up, but don’t let that be the takeaway from his life, that he died; we all die. Focus on how we can live — as you can see, it can make people take notice, and that’s a good thing when it’s for the right reasons.