It is with a sense of awe and wonder – and pride – that I reflect on the recent passing and honoring of two great Americans. What strikes me in this reflection is the contrast between the two.

On the one hand, we lost Aretha Franklin, who was a bold original in her own right. What gifts she gave us.

On the other hand, we lost John McCain, military hero and senior statesman who stood up for civility to the end.

Both spoke truth to power and were widely loved for it.

But notice this. McCain was a white American man of privilege. Franklin was an African-American woman, one of a class of the most disadvantaged in this country.

It thrilled me to see the precision and honor given as McCain’s casket was carried up the Capitol steps in recognizing his service to his country.

Likewise, it thrilled me to see the celebration and affirmation of African American culture by those proud of their heritage who are not just survivors of slavery but who have taken that legacy and made it bold and their own.

It is the best of America that we can celebrate both of these individuals for their respective gifts, acknowledging their widely divergent paths and the courage each demonstrated to live their beliefs.

America is already great. I deeply lament how very flawed we are, and the national shames that we carry, but we have the best of what it takes to continue improving. Might we call that chutzpah? Or moxie.

Alison Barker

Portland