How much attention do we pay to the people who stand just outside the spotlight? The recent death of Lady Bird Johnson reminded me that we often forget about these firsthand witnesses of history. She was in Dallas, two cars back, the day of the Kennedy assassination.
As she told the stricken widow on the flight back to D.C., “Oh, Mrs. Kennedy, you know we never even wanted to be Vice President and now, dear God, it has come to this.” (link)
I most admire Lady Bird for the role she played as an ambassador for the Civil Rights Movement of 1964. The circumstances around her “whistle-stop” train tour were less than ideal. Southern governors wouldn’t guarantee her safety, and few of her audiences could be described as pro-Johnson. Lady Bird greeted crowd after crowd with a steady composure.
“You may not agree with what I have to say,” she said in her soft southern drawl, “but at least you will understand the way I say it.”(link)
Johnson went on to win his own presidential race in a landslide victory. Lady Bird’s efforts in the South were thought to have turned the tide against Republican Barry Goldwater. I suspect she didn’t realize the cost that would be exacted for winning this particular campaign what with Vietnam lurking nearby.
“The First Lady is an unpaid public servant elected by one person—her husband,” said Lady Bird. (link) She could have had a different life. She graduated from college at a time when women didn’t even go to college. Her hopes of being a reporter were replaced with marriage and supporting her husband, an aspiring political candidate.
I suspect there are plenty of women who would criticize her decision or a similar one made today. To me, Lady Bird is a reminder that we all have our own paths to choose. Some will take us into the spotlight and others will place us on the edge. In some ways, anyone can stand in the spotlight, but it takes something different to stand on the edges, a certain level of patience and inner grace. This combination is rarer than you might think. I believe it’s why so many people in the spotlight crash and burn. They don’t have that rare combination waiting for them outside the spotlight.