Change, From the News, Memoir

A Peaceful Transition of Power

1989 Presidential Inaugration, George H. W. Bu...
1989 Presidential Inaugration, George H. W. Bush, Opening Ceremonies, at Lincoln Memorial (Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution)

Many years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I had the privilege of working for a U.S. Presidential Inauguration.

George Herbert Walker Bush had just been elected President of the United States the week before I got married.

When Doug and I returned from our honeymoon and I returned to my job as the communications director for U.S. Senator Jake Garn, I got a telephone call from a friend and former colleague wondering if I would be willing to advise the inaugural committee on media relations and public affairs.

With my boss’ support, I left the office that day and went to the inaugural committee’s headquarters in SE Washington where they had transformed an old empty warehouse into a frenetic, exciting workplace for the President’s inauguration.

I walked in as a volunteer adviser and ended up as the new director of communications and taking a leave of absence from my Capitol Hill job.  I’d never worked in such an intense, fast-paced, exhilarating job in my life, and I never have since.

We had meetings for all the directors every morning and every evening and had a clock ticking the entire day, counting down to the swearing-in and all the traditional festivities that celebrate that historic moment.

I learned three of my most important life lessons in that job. At my first early morning meeting, the executive director, Stephen M. Studdert, went around the table and asked everyone to introduce themselves. I glanced around and noticed that I was one of three women at the table. I was 31 years old. Every one else had more experience, what I viewed as more prestigious jobs, and a history working with President Bush, either in the campaign, in Texas or in the White House when he served as Vice President.

The closer they got to me, the more nervous I became. The thought crossed my mind, “I have no business in this room with these people.” Right before it was my turn, an inner voice shot back, “That’s the last time ever that you are going to think like that. The minute you doubt your abilities, you’re done. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t qualified. If you give in to that way of thinking, you’ll fail. Now, just dig in and do this thing!

If I’d continued to compare myself to every other person in that room, I’d have walked out powerless and weak. And, I knew that in an environment like that, there was no room for insecurity and no time to nurse a case of fledgling confidence.

At every morning meeting, we received and/or shared our day’s goals. At every evening meeting, we reported on our progress. One of the directors got a little too long-winded in his report, and was quickly told, “Look, I don’t want your life story. Just get to the point.”

It’s true. We were marching toward inauguration day and didn’t have time for chitchat. The clock was steadily clicking. I learned to get to the point — fast.

The other more philosophical lesson I learned was the utter beauty of a “peaceful transition of power.” As I wrote press releases, arranged media interviews, and shaped messages, I marveled over the unique American ritual of a peaceful inauguration.

Capitol 9
Capitol 9 (Photo credit: afagen)

Today, as President Obama takes the public oath of office, I remember the day I stood in the press stands during President Bush’s inauguration and looked out at the throngs of people packing the lawn and the streets of the nation’s capitol.

Nothing brings greater feelings of patriotism that seeing all our American pageantry on display with our military bands; red, white and blue bunting around the Capitol building, and citizens from all over the country representing our nation’s uniqueness in the inaugural parade.

Despite your politics, take a minute today to appreciate America. In a world full of conflict, we should celebrate the honor of living in a country where a “peaceful” inauguration will once again occur — something we should never take for granted.

Community, From the News, Uncategorized

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Weekend 2012 and what it conjures up…

1. Memories of living in Crystal City and taking my camera over to Arlington Cemetery to photograph the thousands of flags posted by the graves and feeling overwhelming gratitude for the soldiers who served the United States with such courage and valor. I couldn’t believe the sea of red, white, and blue flags waving in the humid breeze of the nation’s capital.  “And this is where I live,” I kept thinking.

Photos from Patch.com

2.  Going camping at Fairfax Lake Park with my family and camping next to Rolling Thunder bikers.  Turns out they were nicer, friendlier, and quieter than the Christian Bible group camping on the other side of us.

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3. Listening to Ronald Reagan in 1982 speak in Arlington National Cemetery about the many heroes buried in the cemetery that represented America’s best. He said, In America’s cities and towns today, flags will be placed on graves in cemeteries; public officials will speak of the sacrifice and the valor of those whose memory we honor. In 1863, when he dedicated a small cemetery in Pennsylvania marking a terrible collision between the armies of North and South, Abraham Lincoln noted the swift obscurity of such speeches. Well, we know now that Lincoln was wrong about that particular occasion. His remarks commemorating those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” were long remembered. But since that moment at Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage — not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words.”

The “inadequacy of words.”

When it comes to commemorating those who gave their last full measure of devotion, Reagan was exactly right — there is an inadequacy of words to express our gratitude.

Photo credit: freerepublic

4. I think of the Challenger astronauts on Memorial Day because they were buried in Arlington Cemetery, along with many of the other national heroes. I was working in the House of Representatives watching the space shuttle Challenger on television as it blasted off into space.  Then in horror, I watched it explode.  I immediately thought of my first boss, Senator Jake Garn, an astronaut himself and how heartbreaking that must have been for him.  He knew those astronauts. Then I thought of being at Cape Canaveral watching the space shuttle Discovery soar into the air and felt part of the excitement and anticipation of everyone on the ground watching.  I remember standing near John Travolta and seeing his eyes light up with childlike wonder as Discovery disappeared from sight.  How could the families and friends and onlookers cope with what they saw after Challenger’s blast off? It was a an awful day.  But like always, American paid tribute to them and the country came together to both mourn and heal.

5. I think of my friend Keri whose husband Rich served two tours of duty in Iraq.  She became the caretaker of all the women and families left alone at Fort Campbell when all the men were deployed after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. After thinking, “Why me?” she quickly changed to the wiser question, “Why not me?” While we remember the soldiers who fight for us, we have to remember the families whose sacrifices too are monumental.

 

6. I also can’t help but think of 9/11 — a day that will forever be memorialized on any day of national significance.  Instead of focusing on the terror, destruction, and utter heartbreak, I try to think of the U.S. flags springing up everywhere, the outpouring of love and support and national unity.  I think of walking through the neighborhood putting flags in the ground by every mailbox. I think of crying unexpectedly at the stoplight when I heard the song “I’m Proud to be an American.” I remember talking to my burly brother, the brick mason, who said he heard about it on his work radio. Then he and the other workers took an early lunch. He sat on the curb and opened his lunchbox and broke down sobbing.

7. On a happier note, I think of being at the beach, watching the flag wave on our deck, hearing the ocean waves in the distance, and listening to the happy sounds of a houseful of people enjoying the sublime and often overlooked gifts of peace and freedom.

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