William H. Hudnut III: My Valediction Forbidding Mourning
One cannot choose how one finishes the race, only how one runs it. I would not have chosen a long, slow slide into complete heart failure, but I tried to cope with it with “gaiety, courage and a quiet mind,” to borrow from my mother who in turn was quoting Robert Louis Stevenson.
It has often been remarked that life is a journey, not a destination. About the destination, “I believe, Lord, help thou mine unbelief.” I leave this earthly life at peace, with faith and trust in a future that will carry me beyond the bourne of space and time, but also with wariness of plotting the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell. There is much I cannot fathom about the afterlife. Will there be recognition? What part of me, if any, survives? Forever, or just until I am forgotten? A little reverent agnosticism seems to be in order, because “now we see through a glass darkly.” More positively, “we walk by faith and not by sight.”
About the journey, it’s been a wonderful trip. As I have said many times, I hope my epitaph will read: “He built well and he cared about people.”
I have tried to lead a useful life. Of course, I’ve made mistakes. I’ve displayed some real shortcomings and caused some hurts along the way. I’m sorry. But overall, I look back with gratitude. I have been blessed in so many ways—by my loving wife Beverly for more than a quarter century; by my chances to move from a one-room schoolhouse in the cornfields of Illinois to graduate school in New York City; by living in America, and spending most of my professional career in Indianapolis; by having a beautiful cottage in the serenity of the Adirondack mountains; by manifold opportunities to lead a life of service and usefulness, as mayor, congressman, Presbyterian clergyman, academic, think tank fellow; and by the people in my life like doctors, staff, academics, co-workers, (certain!) media types, political allies (and adversaries!), church members, fellow citizens who have worked with me and wished me well across the years. There’s no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We’re all indebted to others, a point I always tried to make whenever some thoughtful recognition like Hudnut Commons would come my way.
In my last years, I have become deeply aware of the love from family and friends and well-wishers with which I have been surrounded. Starting with my wife Beverly, I think about my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Also, I think about my cousins (ranging from 90 down to infancy), my parents and siblings and other relatives in our family circle. I cherish the affection and support of friends too numerous to count. I have appreciated the posts on the CaringBridge website expressing appreciation, encouragement, and loving concern. I can’t be sure, but it seems as though great love must endure. I depart this life believing with St. Paul (I Cor. 13): “Love can outlast anything; it still stands when all else has fallen.”
As Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote, “O Lord, support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done, and then in Thy great mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.”