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There are going to be numerous tributes and news programs reviewing his life, public and private, and going over the many decisions he had during his two terms as the President of the United States. It doesn't matter where in the political spectrum you fall, he had impact on America and changed the course of history. For better or for worse is going to become the crux of many of the broadcasts, I'm certain.

For me, he was a hero. He's a hero because he made the biggest fear of my childhood go away.

I'm in my thirties and have lived all of my life within 50 miles of Washington D.C. When I was in grade school, I remember a time of particular tension, and sadness, when the teachers in all sincerity urged us not to vex our parents, for they didn't know from one day to the next if we were going to go home safely. I have no idea what incident sparked all the concern, but there was talk of the U.S.S.R. possibly bombing the Capital.

We learned in Science class that a bomb dropped on Washington D.C. though we were miles and miles away, would kill us from radiation.

In History class, we learned of this war, called the Cold War, where two major powers in the world, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., promised each other that they wouldn't start anything, but if the one side did, the other would make certain that the side that used the 'First Strike' would be destroyed. We learned that we had enough firepower in stockpiled bombs to destroy the world 14 times over.

Whatever political upset had all the adults in an uproar died down in just a few weeks, but it left a deep impression in me.

I feared the U.S.S.R. They were monsters who would destroy the world for pride, who oppressed their own people, and all the horrible things, real and imagined, that the history I had been taught, ascribed to them. I was certain that the world would end in a nuclear war, destroying the planet for everyone, forever, because of them.

(I know now that the history I had been taught was definitely one-sided, and that the U.S. could have plunged us into my nightmares. That nightmare world is still around today, as many of the world powers have the means to bring it about. But to my younger self, the world was very black and white, evil and good, and the U.S.S.R. was definitely the one and the U.S. obviously the other.)

It was a time of quiet, but black despair for me. I remember a couple of years where I didn't speak much, afraid that I would use up all the words alotted to me and thus find myself mute when I would be on my deathbed. I wouldn't allow myself to care about others, fearful that I was creating hostages to fortune if I did. You see, if a bomb were to be dropped on us, and I and my family were fortunate enough to survive it, I would be sad if my friends did not. So, would it not be better to have no friends to be worried about?

It was in these years that I started writing stories, in my head mainly, because I WANTED friends. I was just too afraid to have them, afraid of the pain of losing them. My stories were always with me, so they would only be lost if I were, and if I were already dead, it wouldn't matter if my stories were too, as no one else even knew about them.

Morbid? Heck yes. I was quite a morbid little child for a couple of years there. I went off to high school, made friends, got my first part time job, graduated, got my first car, in short, grew up and left most of that morbid little girl behind, but my fear of the U.S.S.R. was never that deeply buried, and my concern about nuclear war still haunted me.

Ronald Reagan made a miracle happen. We now know that it was a bluff, a planned, expensive bluff, but he bought peace. Not only did he make the black and white of the Cold War go away, he showed that the Russians are people too. Not monsters, but people, just like me. Fearful of the same things that I was fearful of. Wanting to live, feeling despair, writing stories, all of it, just like us.

The end of the Cold War liberated me. I still fear things and I still worry, but not all the time and not with the morbid vigor I once did. The world may yet end in nuclear war, but before it does, I'm going to enjoy my life and not fear my death. I'm going to introduce my friends in real life to the friends who live in the sunny and shadowed pathways of my mind. Perhaps the real life ones won't like the story ones, but that's okay. It is the sharing of the imaginary friends with the real life ones that is the breakthrough for me here. I don't need to jealously hold stories to myself when there are real people to share them with - real people who are more dear to me than any imaginary ones could ever be.

Are these friends still hostages to fate? Of course. But if I don't let my fear rule me, that fate isn't necessarily as black as I had once imagined.

It is Ronald Reagan who freed me from that fear. That is why he is my hero. That is why I'm sad today.


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December 2004

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