For the better part of the last decade my family has been through what seems like an endless stream of unfortunate events. We’ve been victims of time and circumstance. We’ve been betrayed by people we trusted, and kicked in the gut before we had a chance to get up from the last kick. We’d dig our way out of a hole just to get dumped on again. We became Sisyphus. It’s in those very rare of times when things work themselves out that I end up writing thank you notes to those who stood by us and helped us get through. In 2015, I wrote a thank you note to President Obama.
In my letter I told him that policies he was able to enact, despite unprecedented and unjustified opposition, had a direct personal impact on our family. HARP saved our house after a 2009 layoff. We purchased a health plan through the Health Care Marketplace after another layoff, and not only did it lead to discovering a heart condition that gave me a 20 year heads-up on a heart attack, I don’t need to worry about being denied coverage for the condition in the future. Even since that letter we’ve had another real kitchen table issue helped by the president’s policies when my husband got a significant raise because he was working so many hours the company would have had to pay him overtime. It is not in any way hyperbole to say that President Obama saved our house, saved my life, and is now helping us meet day to day expenses. So, I sent him a thank you note.
To my absolute surprise I received a personal reply. It made me feel good to know that he actually read my words and knew that somewhere out there was a family he helped in very specific ways. In early March of 2016 I was invited to share a meal with him and some other people who had benefited from Obamacare and it was one of the most amazing days of my life. In a year that many will remember as just one sad moment after another, I have an incredible memory.
When I think about how he has been treated during his entire presidency it breaks my heart. President Obama is a good man. You can’t spend 90 minutes with someone and not see something beyond a public persona. I get emotional pretty easily and from the simple understanding that I was spending time with living history I teared up several times. His staff assured me that he was just a regular guy, a “dad” they said a lot, and that I had nothing to be nervous about. (Really? He knows the Queen and the Pope but he’s a regular guy?) I was nervous but kept my cool through most of the meal although I was weepy as soon as he came into the room. I barely got out, “It’s an honor Mr. President” when he was already patting my shoulder reassuringly. It was quickly very apparent that despite his impressive Contacts list, he really is a normal guy, a truly exceptional normal guy.
At one point he was sharing the story of when Daniel Day Lewis and Steven Spielberg visited the White House for a viewing of “Lincoln”. Spielberg said that because Daniel Day Lewis stays in character during an entire film, he really felt a sense of loss after the last scene was filmed. It was almost as if Spielberg understood what it must have been like when Lincoln died. That, I could not handle and the tears started flowing again. The President was to my left and shot me a silly look and said, “Again?” and put his hand on my shoulder while the whole table laughed. The photo of that moment remained the White House website cover photo for several days. Perhaps meant to show the world, that despite everything, he is a normal guy — a brilliant guy with a playful sense of humor.
When I asked him what he’s most missed about his old life he said quite simply that he missed being able to take a walk. Even with all the trouble and strife I’ve experienced over the last eight years, including foot surgery, I could still take a walk. I could still just hold my husband’s hand and talk things through as we strolled around the block with the dogs, or even walking the kids around to Trick-or-Treat. Something so simple, and yet the most powerful man in the world can’t do it. How lonely that must be to not be able to be alone. He keeps his Secret Service protection for the rest of his life so he has decades more of shadows in suits around him. I’m not sure if he’ll ever be able to take a walk again.
When he took out his own credit card to pay the bill I thought that it must be something special for him to have such a simple, normal moment. To just sit down with people and have lunch and pick up the check. He’s a good man, and a normal guy but only in rare and special moments can he actually show it. Dang it, I’m crying now.
So, I thanked him again. I thanked him for lunch. I thanked him for making the sacrifices of privacy for himself and his family so that my family and yours can have a better life. This good and decent man has put the needs and dreams of an entire nation before the simple pleasures of life and he will have my unending thanks.
On the off chance they’d have an opportunity to meet him, I took my kids with me. Despite it not being on the schedule, he said he’d make sure we got a picture.
I have this picture within quick eye-shot no matter where I am. It’s my wallpaper on my phone, the desktop image on my work computer, and now on a big canvas print in my living room. That day is not just a memory for me but for these two young people who shared in a moment of a lifetime. They had a few moments of time with this amazingly normal guy who had a profound effect on our family.
Thanks, Mr. President. Now, go take a walk, you’ve earned it.