The picture of President Obama standing with the four living former U.S. presidents at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas is a grand statement for us, and the rest of the world, as to whom we are.
No one had to die for any one of them to take office. None was deposed by some despot.
Each took office as a result of a vote by a free people. Each has his strengths and each has his weaknesses. Although each of us has our preferences, only time will sift through the remains for an accurate judgment.
Each one separately, and all of them together, tell a great story. Although each of these men is flawed in some dramatic way, I am happy to be represented by any one of them.
Along with whatever baggage each man carries, he is a great American. He has stood the test. He has walked through the fire and emerged a winner.
Your vote may have been different from mine, but that is the point. We do not have to agree to live together in peace. We do not have to think the same or vote the same.
I am happy with the choices I made and would make the same choices again. I am sure that you feel the same way about your choices.
Those men can stand there together because each one knows fully the burdens that each one shouldered.
Each one knows the agony, heartache, sleepless nights and the great joy of serving the American people. Each one understands that one word from any one of them during his turn in office could have plunged the world into instant chaos.
These are good men. They are us. Soon, too soon, each one of them will leave us. As each one goes, we will mourn his passing.
We will remember his accomplishments. We will lament his failures. In many cases, we will regret not heeding some of his advice.
Each has taken his turn on the world stage. The country, our country, will endure.
We are a strong people. We are resilient. We are capable of unbelievable acts that dishonor our national conscience, but we are also capable of unbelievable acts of honor, kindness and love.
For a season, we divide ourselves into blue states and red states, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, gay and straight, but when some misguided individual or group tries to harm us, we become one people, indivisible.
I am proud of those five men pictured there because I am in the picture and so are you. We are all holding hands. When it matters, we are one.
I am for national health care, gun control and immigration reform, and I understand full well that you may not be. We will decide these issues at the voting booth.
Each of us will have the opportunity to state our case to anyone who chooses to listen. No one is forced to listen, and no one is forced to vote.
We are free to follow our consciences, but no one is forced to follow us. We are free to become involved, and we are free to sit on the sidelines.
I am free to worship as I choose, and I am free not to worship at all.
Sometimes in the heat of debate, we forget how fortunate we are. We are free to debate. That is a hard-won freedom.
Look, again, at these five men. With all of their faults and virtues, they are us.
I, for one, am giving thanks for them individually and collectively. You are free to join me.
A member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.