The End of an Era

by gillis

“This is really it, the end of an era,” said the NPR reporter. His story centered around the late Nancy Reagan. Californians were sharing words to honor the former First Lady. Some were also juxtaposing the Reagan era politics with the current landscape in Washington.

I was in high school and college when Reagan was in office, and it’s true that democrats and republicans still worked together at that point. Reagan and Tip O’Neill were famous friends. We certainly haven’t seen that with Obama and Ryan, or Boehner before him. It was a very different time, but I don’t have a pair of rose-colored glasses to strap on when I look back at that era.

While I can appreciate the nostalgia people are feeling with the passing of Nancy Reagan, who was a formidable, intelligent presence on the cultural and political landscape, I don’t long for a return to those times. I don’t have warm fuzzy feelings about the world then. I think we’re still unraveling some of the trickle down Reaganomics that kept my generation scrambling for professional work with not-so-professional salaries. Fawn Hall and Oliver North provided me with my earliest televised government scandal memories since I was too young to comprehend Watergate. The shredding of documents and ideas about needing to go “above the law” made me question my government for the first time. But the AIDS policies, or lack thereof, are the bitterest Reagan-era  memories that I would not wish to relive. 

There was a glaring omission of compassion and concern in our country during the AIDS epidemic which started in the Oval Office and trickled down from there. I remember losing a friend with a brilliant mind, the type of mind that could take on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle and win. Ironically, he developed a very rare form of dementia, let in by AIDS, and did not live to see his 30th birthday. When the AIDS monster decided someone’s number was up, it was up. I wept as the massive quilt filled with squares of love and remembrance toured the nation. I volunteered at a charity shop which supported services for AIDS patients. It was an ugly time. And we lost hundreds of beautiful, brilliant people, partially due to lack of political will.

Nancy Reagan represented many things. She was fashionable and gracious in her red gowns and coiffed hair. She hosted heads of state with elegance and ease. She fiercely and lovingly protected her husband. With her passing we have lost an icon to a bygone era. Rest in peace, Nancy Reagan.

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