History is often kind to former presidents, sometimes kinder than they deserve.
And when a president dies, we are compelled to remember the good that he did and ignore the things that once made us rife with anger. That's how it should be, for the moment, at least.
I don't often think of George H.W. Bush's single term as the 41st president. When I looked at him, I saw a frail man in whimsical socks who in his latter years had taken to a wheelchair because of vascular Parkinsonism.
The image that most likely will remain with me now is of his flag-draped casket and his loyal service dog, Sully, resting on the floor in front of it, as if he were waiting for the president to awaken.
I know that isn't fair.
In some ways, though, his frailty at age 94 made him seem more human -- and vulnerable -- like the rest of us. When a man sits in Washington, at the helm of the most powerful nation in the world, there can be no visible commonalities with regular people. Americans tend to prefer it that way.
We cannot afford to see the president as someone just like us. If we did, we would be so afraid. The president has to appear much more powerful, mighty, smart and courageous than the average person.
And though we might not agree with all of his decisions, we want to trust that they are made with good intentions on our behalf. We did not always feel that way of Bush.
For many Republicans, he paled in comparison with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, for whom he had served as vice president. For others, he may have seemed inconsequential. And for those who voted him out of office, incompetent when it came to jobs and the economy.
Important victories came under his watch -- the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War -- but it was Reagan who earned most of the credit for laying the groundwork.
What we remember about Bush is that he gave us the Gulf War, which in 1991 may have been the only way to thwart Saddam Hussein's attempted takeover of Kuwait. But in the eyes of some, he pulled American troops out too soon and left the job unfinished, allowing the dictator to rise up even stronger in the aftermath of the war.
We also are reminded of his pardons of six former officials in the Reagan administration's biggest scandal -- the Iran-Contra affair. Some still wonder whether pardoning former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger before he could be tried for lying to Congress about the secret arms-for-hostages deal was more about protecting himself than the rest of us.
For African-Americans, Bush's legacy is particularly complicated. During his successful presidential campaign, he gave us Willie Horton, a caricature of the dangerous black man stereotype that continues to drive American judicial policies.
Then he appointed Clarence Thomas, an African-American jurist whom the NAACP said would be "inimical to the best interests of African-Americans," to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And while he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, protecting disabled people from discrimination in employment and public facilities, he vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990, labeling it a destructive vehicle for quotas in the workplace. But later, he signed the less comprehensive Civil Rights Act of 1991, making discrimination lawsuits easier to file in the workplace.
In the 25 years since he lost re-election, we came to know Bush more as a man, and perhaps to understand him a little better.
As a former president who became more human to us after leaving office, we began to see him as a complicated man who tried to balance the pressure of partisan politics with what he believed was right. He was a man who most likely was a very decent human being but a conflicted politician, as most presidents are.
When I think of Bush in the future, I will remember him as a man who ultimately gained the respect of many. Former first lady Michelle Obama interrupted her book tour to attend his funeral on Wednesday. Bill Clinton, the Democrat who defeated him and later became a close friend, revealed how gracious Bush had been after losing.
In a letter left in the Oval Office prior to his departure, Bush wrote: "Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you."
And in a final act of graciousness before dying, he reportedly wanted President Donald Trump, whom he and his family often clashed with politically, to attend his funeral. And Trump has accepted.
No doubt Bush knew it would be controversial. But inclusion is what America needs right now.
President George H.W. Bush will mostly be judged through the lens of history by his single term in office. But some will look upon him fondly as a man, who in death tried to bring the country together.