11.02.2010

I Was There.

To my Grandchildren,

Your great great grandmother Sylvia worked for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry Truman during and after World War II in the department of Commerce in Washington DC.  She was there when President Roosevelt died.  She was there when Truman made one of the hardest decisions any one man ever made on behalf of human kind, and implemented nuclear warfare.  I am both sad and grateful that her Washington DC experience was not mine.

Your grandmother Lorraine worked for President Bush and Speaker Pelosi, and most important, the late great Tom Lantos, Democratic House Majority Leader of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Holocaust Survivor, Animal Rights and Human Rights Advocate.  I was working every day with all my heart until the day he died, halfway through my tenure, of cancer.  I was present when every great American and World Leader and human rights advocate came and honored him in the Capitol Building, I was there when his beautiful granddaughter sang her operatic heart out to say goodbye.  I saw his wife of more than 50 years, miss him.  Oh to see a woman miss a man that won't return.  To hear the whimpers of his grandchildren.  And I had perhaps the greatest privilege of all- to carry out his legacy for a few more months at the Committee, to preserve his records, to do every little thing I could to help see that his legislation passed.

I watched in awe as a $50 billion bill was passed which would go towards preventing AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis in developing countries, named for him and his late friend and Republican Committee Majority Leader, Henry J. Hyde.  I copied that bill 53 times, once for each congressman on the committee, and our major staffers.  It may not sound like much, but it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

I did a lot of things at the House of Representatives, and I don't know what kind of world you will live in, or what kind of things you will hear about your government, but I want you to know that very little of what I did was political, and very little of what my colleagues did was political.  What House and Senate Staffers do is WORK.  They research, they reach out, they absorb billions of facts a day and make sense of it.  They speak to constituents, and they help people. They stand up for people who have no voice.  They let little interns have a moment in the hotseat.  They enact the will of the American people 12 hours a day, at least.

And, I once stood, completely alone, in the dome of the capitol.  Late at night, after delivering materials to the senate, I passed through the most sacred space of American Democracy, without the roar of angry partisanship, without the slurs and youtube videos and skewed facts being replayed in quenching soundbites.  Democracy is, at its heart, profoundly silent.  For all its voices, for all the clamoring of the people,  in the eye of the storm, there is a barrier of peace around what we built here.  I know it now, I know it forever.

A lot of those good people will lose their jobs this winter as the House changes.  I do not condemn it, but I mourn the end of an extraordinary chapter in my own life. I can no longer picture the faces in each office of the winding majority office.  I can no longer tell you the 6 digit extension to each regional director, for they will all be moving on to new and undoubtedly wonderful opportunities.

Will one of you live a mile from my apartment, as I did from Grandma Sylvia's?  Will one of you see my favorite buildings and tell me which department chain has made a four story outlet in it?  Will one of you someday take a picture with a statue of Barack Obama's monument in DC and send it to me and say "Isn't this the President you worked for, Grandma?" And painfully, laughingly, I will have to tell you that actually, I worked for the other guy. 

But I will tell you how I stood not 30 yards from President Obama when he made history and took the oath of office.  I will tell you how I danced the night away at his Inaugural Ball.  I will tell you how much hope we had, and that even in America's darkest hour, we never gave up, and your Grandfather and I never surrendured to it.  It was in the hours of division, hatred, and turmoil (yes, even in a midtern election year) that we found love in spite of the angst around us, and shut out the sirens, and found the peace so like the peace in that great dome.  That's when you know you've found the real deal, my children's children.  When you've found a truly powerful peace.

That's where I was. No matter what you choose to do in your lives, I hope that's a place that you find, too.


        

1 comment:

Tiffanie said...

regardless of what we believe or where we stand politically...that was a very beautiful post...i hope that you actually have it written and put in a special spot so someday those grandchildren can read a very sweet piece of history! thanks for sharing!