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Finishing like Bush 41

Posted on 10 December 2018, 10:04

When former President George W. Bush (Bush 43) ended the eulogy for his father, former President George H. W. Bush (Bush 41 below), last week by saying something to the effect that his father was looking forward to a reunion with his beloved wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, I could envision thousands of nihilists sitting in front of their television sets and reacting to the comment with a self-righteous snort, snarl, or sneer.  I could hear their words, such as “How absolutely ridiculous!” and “How unscientific for men of that stature to believe in such religious superstition!”  I wondered how a nihilist would end the eulogy. Perhaps, “And now that my father is totally extinct, his personality completely obliterated, we need to forget him and get on with life, no matter that our lives are totally meaningless.” Rather than being a “send-off,” as one newspaper headlined the Bush ceremonies, such a memorial service would be a dreary and depressing reminder that life is simply a march into an abyss of nothingness.


So many of the nihilists I encounter in person or on the Internet seem to be young people brainwashed by academia.  Death is too many years down the road for them to have any anxieties about their extinction.  I admit that when I interviewed Horatio Fitch (below) in 1984, I hadn’t given much thought to dying.  I was 47 at the time and still had both feet fully planted in the material world, working two jobs – my day job in insurance claims management and my weekend job as a freelance reporter for the morning daily and a columnist for a national magazine.  In between and around those jobs there were family responsibilities and training up to 100 miles a week in failed efforts to outrun Father Time. Life was all about living and there was little time to think about dying and death.  It was too far in the future, but Horatio’s situation got me to thinking about it.


Horatio was 83 at the time, living alone in a desolate cabin in the mountains of northwest Colorado, his wife having died a few years earlier.  He was snowbound at the time of my telephone interview and his nearest neighbor some distance away. While his phone worked, he had little or no television reception and his eyes were so bad that he was unable to read.  He said he spent most of his time listening to classical music. As I talked with him, I pictured a man dying alone in the middle of nowhere. 

Two years earlier, the movie Chariots of Fire had won the Academy Award as the best picture of 1981.  The movie was about two British runners, both sprinters, who were hoping to win a gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.  But one of them, Eric Liddell, a divinity student from Scotland, refused to participate in the 100 because the race was on a Sunday, a day that was sacred to him.  Instead, he entered the 400-meter run.

Representing the United States, Horatio, an engineering student at the University of Illinois, had broken the world record in his 400-meter heat earlier that day and shaped up as the favorite.  However, Liddell gloriously won the race with Horatio taking the silver medal.  But then, even more than now, a silver medal didn’t count for much.  Between 1924 and 1982, Horatio was asked to speak about his Olympic experience on only two occasions, once in 1928 and again sometime in the mid-30s. While he secretly cherished his silver medal and had fond memories of his Olympic participation, he got on with life and seldom mentioned what he had done that July afternoon in Paris. “It wasn’t that big of a thing until after the movie,” he told me with a hearty laugh.

The actor playing Horatio Fitch in the movie had a very small part – a few seconds on the ship to Paris and then a few seconds in the race itself – but it was enough for people to start contacting him for talks at various community and church functions.  And there were interviews, like mine, preceding the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, 60 years after Horatio’s Olympic effort.  “I enjoy talking about it,” he said. “Heck, I don’t have that much else to do these days.”  He also found some humor in the ironical, even paradoxical, aspect of the situation – losing the race had brought him a little fame, even if 60 years later.  Moreover, if he had won the race, he would have robbed the future screenwriters of a story and the movie would not have been made. 

When I heard that Horatio died the following year, I wondered if he died alone in his mountain cabin. I tried to put myself in the same situation and felt certain that I would really struggle with such solitude, especially if not able to read.  Now that I am nearly as old as Horatio was when I interviewed him, I again wonder what it would be like to live alone and die alone in such a desolate place, no human being within shouting distance.  Fortunately, Bush 41 was at the other extreme in this respect, having all of his large family around him when his spirit body left the physical body.  Bush 41 appears to have had the ideal departure. 

I interviewed Horatio for the sports page and so I didn’t ask him about his beliefs, but I can’t imagine being 83 years old, living alone in the wilderness, unable to read, and with nothing to do but listen to records without a belief that consciousness survives death.  I know some people say that such finality doesn’t bother them, but I always suspect that it is nothing more than bravado to cover up for their inability to grasp things that don’t easily fit nicely into their “intellectual” paradigm.  To quote William James: “The moralist must hold his breath and keep his muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is possible all goes well – morality suffices.  But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears invade the mind.”
Carl Gustav Jung, one of the founders of modern psychiatry, said that the majority of his patients were those who had lost their faith.  “They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking,” he explained. “Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning.”  He referred to the reality of most people as “a submission to the vow to believe only in what is probable, average, commonplace, barren of meaning, to renounce everything strange and significant, and reduce anything extraordinary to the banal.”

Jung recalled that while in medical school he was fascinated when he read about psychic phenomena as observed by such noted scientists as William Crookes and Johann Zöellner, but when he spoke of them to his friends and classmates, they reacted with derision and disbelief, or with anxious defensiveness. “I wondered at the sureness with which they could assert that things like ghosts and table-turning were impossible and therefore fraudulent, and on the other hand at the evidently anxious nature of their defensiveness.”

Concerning the whole idea of an afterlife, Jung stated he was convinced that it is “hygienic” to discover in death a goal toward which one can strive and not to do so robs the second half of life of its purpose. “I therefore consider the religious teaching of a life hereafter consonant with the standpoint of psychic hygiene,” he wrote, adding that it is desirable to think of death as only a transition – one part of a life process that is beyond our knowledge and comprehension. Apparently, Bush 41 had that mindset and hopefully Horatio did, too.  It’s unfortunate that the nihilists don’t get it.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.



Hi Brian,

Thank you for the comment concerning your grandfather.  It was indeed an honor to interview him back in 1984.  I gave a chapter to him in my 2009 book, “Running on Third Wind.”  (Chapter Two)  I’d gladly send you a copy if I had any extra ones left, but I don’t.  It is still available on It is under “Mike Tymn” rather than “Michael Tymn” as my other books are.

I am now 83, the same age as your grandfather was when I interviewed him.  While I don’t live in a desolate area, the quarantine has mimicked the solitude to some extent and I can better appreciate his living conditions.  I got to be good friends with Aileen Riggin, who was on the 1920 and ‘24 teams.  As I recall, she is the one who gave me your grandfather’s phone number, but I don’t remember why she had it.

Aloha from Hawaii!

Michael Tymn, Wed 26 Aug, 21:51

Thank you so much for publishing your 1984 interview with my grandfather.  As you alluded, he remained remarkably humble about his achievements.  Although my interactions with him with mostly during my early childhood, he always struck me as carefree.  He was resilient.  I know that the passing of my grandmother in 1972 must have been very difficult for him.  Despite this, he carried on and he maintained his independence until the time of his death in Estes Park in 1985.  He was happy in that cabin in Colorado, and I imagine that he wanted to stay in that home until his death. 

  Sadly, the Olympic Silver Medal that my grandfather won In 1924 appears to be forever lost.  My father kept it in our house, but it was nowhere to be found after my father passed away two years ago.  My father may have donated the medal to someone prior to his death, but we have no records of that.  Regrettably, I never actually saw the medal myself. 

  But I am forever grateful that memory of my grandfather’s achievements has been preserved in the movie Chariots of Fire, as well as through your publication of your interview with him in his late years.  Thank you so much.

Brian Fitch, Wed 26 Aug, 14:01

I do not doubt that Bush 41 or 43 (whichever) has now met his wife again.

What I wonder is what their reaction is to the new self-knowledge they probably have (whether it has dawned or is still not yet a part of their consciousness) of their own American Dream selfishness and willingness to abuse power for personal gain, which is always someone else’s loss. How, in the world they now inhabit do they relate to their former victims?

Eric Franklin

Eric Franklin, Tue 1 Jan, 11:23

Concerning the whole idea of an afterlife, Jung stated he was convinced that it is “hygienic” to discover in death a goal toward which one can strive and not to do so robs the second half of life of its purpose.

Schopenhauer said that the first 40 years of life provide the text; the second 40, the commentary on it.

Rick Darby, Tue 11 Dec, 23:06

Hi Mike great column!  I was watching Bush’s minister being interviewed and he stated that former President Bush had asked him how old did he think Robin would be when he met her on the other side!!  I think he was definately one of us!
Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year
Blessings Karen

Karen Herrick PhD, Mon 10 Dec, 22:32

I now have twenty afterlife evidence videos on Youtube and hundreds of comments by people who have watched them. Most are positive comments, but one ‘John Smith’ has scattered negative remarks on several of my productions. He sounds angry and his recent comment on my video ‘This Life, Past Life’ was short and to the point - Utter Bullshit ! My policy is to respect people’s views and only very rarely to comment on them, usually in a positive way, but on this occasion I was tempted to respond before realising I might simply get into a shouting match with such a person. So I didn’t write what I had in mind. This was a quote credited to John Heywood in 1546. - “There are none so blind as those who will not see”. This thoughtful piece by Mike reminded me again of this saying since it seems to apply to so many especially younger people. Thanks MIke, for this and a whole year of very readable and wise blog offerings. A Happy Christmas to you.

Keith P in England, Mon 10 Dec, 12:54

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The Orpheus Motif in North America: The Comanche tradition – To give the reader a general idea of the form taken by the Orpheus tradition in North America, I reproduce the version of the Comanche Indians, here published for the first time. It was communicated to me orally by the late Dr Ralph Linton, who noted it down in the course of his field-studies among the Comanche (1933). Particular interest attaches to the Comanche narrative, for it is the first recorded Orpheus tradition from the more easterly Shoshonean groups. No account is given of it in Wallace and Hoebel’s Comanche monograph, which is otherwise a valuable source for the religion and folklore of this tribe. Read here
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