William Howard Taft was the 27th president of the United States. Taft is a story of tragic and triumph, he was never keen on the idea of being president. He ran at the out right insistence of Teddy Roosevelt who was leaving office. Taft was Roosevelt's handpicked successor. Taft actually wanted to be on the supreme court, as a matter of fact he had dreamed of being chief justice. Chief Justice was the federal office that Taft long desired as far back as his days at Yale. None the less he was wooed by Roosevelt who felt that Taft would continue his agenda and would be someone Roosevelt could heavily influence. This proved to not be the case. Taft who was overweight, had a jovial loving spirit but he also was someone who would not be controlled. Roosevelt pushed for tariffs and Taft's administration reduced them. Taft was also a man, who despite being secretary of war under Roosevelt, believed in peace and wanted to reduce any conflict. As you may imagine the relationship went sour between Roosevelt and Taft and in 1912, just 4 years after he endorsed Taft, Roosevelt ran against him. The result was that the party was split and neither won the election of 1912 and Woodrow Wilson became 28th president of our United States.
Sad story but whats my point? Taft licked his wounds and returned to being a professor of law at Yale, he was very involved in the League to Enforce Peace. Taft went back to work. Sure he was hurt, I am sure he was angry, and I am sure that he felt as though the very relationships he built had crumbled. None the less he went back to doing what he loved to do. He had bills to pay, this was before the Former President's Act would entitle former presidents to lifetime pensions. Taft worked, he did would he loved and then his day in the sun came. In 1921 President Harding called Taft and requested that he become the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taft graciously accepted and he began the last 9 years of his life fulfilling his dream job. He is the only person to have ever served both offices. Taft loved serving the court until his health became very fragile and in 1930 he resigned only to die the next month.
What many may not know is that Taft wrote his resignation letter to the supreme court at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC. As a matter of fact I am writing this in the exact same room that Taft wrote his resignation letter. I am looking out at the same view, the same mountains, the same rock walls. I almost feel as Taft has pulled up a chair beside me in this great hall. I truly feel his presence and spirit as I type these words. I hear him whisper in a gentle voice, "do not give up, do what you love to do. People will disappoint you, friends will hurt you, but keep on course." I look around these massive stone walls to collect my thoughts. I imagine Taft did the same as he contemplated leaving the role he had dreamed to be in. I am sure he thought, "how much time do I have left on this earth?" I wander the same, Taft had 1 month from sitting in this room, I hope I have many, many years. Taft looked out these exact same windows and contemplated the massive creation, the vast expanse of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and he returned to pen and paper.
I too sit and contemplate today. I ask, is my best work behind me? Has my work mattered? What is my next move? Unlike Taft I sit in this room hoping that I am gearing up for my next work where he was winding down in life. Yet I sit here like Taft, with a sense of wonder. I have questions, I have pain, I have unhealthy habits, and I have relationships that feel painful in this moment. I look backwards and see fractured friendships, careers that didn't go as planned, people who I love and love me, said and did things that caused pain. I have felt disappointment, dismay, and fear. Yet just as Taft sat in this space and contemplated all these things, I like Taft, also contemplate joy, triumph, victories, and elation.
A fun fact, Taft is the most obese President to ever serve in office. I understand a little about the feeling of being over weight. Just another connection point for me and the former president this morning. I am grateful for this morning that I was able to spend with President Taft. I call on the spirit of Taft and millions of others who have walked hard roads. I also call upon you, you are my people who love me. I call on all of us to be witnesses to what is next. Taft reminded me this morning, he told me as we sat in the great hall together, “life doesn't always go as planned but life is beautiful and in season even delayed dreams can bloom.” I must let Taft get back to his supreme court resignation letter, he bids you all ado and a wink. I thank him that he allowed me to sit in today. Let's figure out how to get back to doing what we love.