Leaving his shovel on the ground, he slowly walked to a crude bench and sat down. He knew that at any moment a guard would order him to stand up, and when he failed to respond, the guard would beat him to death, probably with his own shovel. He had seen it happen to other prisoners. As he waited, head down, he felt a presence. Slowly he looked up and saw a skinny old prisoner squat down beside him. The man said nothing. Instead, he used a stick to trace in the dirt the sign of the Cross. As Solzhenitsyn stared at the Cross drawn in the dirt his entire perspective changed. The man then got back up and returned to his work —The Sign of the Cross, Luke VeronisSound familiar? McCain told the same story about his POW experience in Vietnam the other night. McCain is a big Solzhenitsyn fan ("a writer with unusual gifts, utterly devoted to his art, brilliant and exacting") but as No More Mr. Nice Blog points out the story is entirely absent from all of McCain's in-depth accounts of his captivity. The story first saw the light of day in his 1999 book, Faith of My Fathers — co-written by his speechwriter Mark Salter:
For just that moment I forgot all my hatred for my enemies, and all the hatred most of them felt for me. I forgot about the Jerk, and the interrogators who persecuted my friends and me. I forgot about the war, and the terrible things that war does to you. I was just one Christian venerating the cross with a fellow Christian on Christmas morning.In other words, the story emerged only after he started running for office. In 2000, he road-tested the story in the New York Times, but about someone else ("a scared American prisoner of war in Vietnam ....Both prisoner and guard both stood wordlessly there for a minute or two, venerating the cross, until the guard rubbed it out and walked away").
I have to say: this seems awfully like someone limbering up for a lie. First you try it out in the third person, to see how it sounds, then — since it now no longer seems like all that much of a stretch — you swap third for first, and bingo, you're up and running.