Recently, a good friend helped us out and got us into the White House for a special visit. I decided to write about it. Sorry, it's a little long...
Traffic was unusually onerous. An accident near the 14th St. Bridge had northbound traffic backed up for more than 15 miles. Thankfully, with little Emma in the car, we were able to hop on the HOV3 and boogie for a portion of road. We made it to the Metro stop and parked the car in the garage only a little behind schedule.
While traveling with an infant helps a person to make good time on the highway and sometimes gets you a good parking spot at places where retailers know a new parent will spend lots of money (which is just about everywhere it seems), that is all inevitably lost in the mysterious time abyss that exists between car and destination. This anomaly will suck up a minute so fast it makes our dryer’s sock monster, with his stealthy ability to break up a mated pair of stockings, look like an amateur.
Up the elevator, down the elevator, through the only turnstile large enough to accommodate a stroller, all the while navigating the morning work crowd crushing their way toward work, we made our way to the platform. Once on the train, the swaying motion of the car gently rocked our little pink bundled baby to sleep.
“What time are we supposed to meet her?” I asked.
“9:00.”, Robby replied, his face showing his disappointment that we were now having to rush. No time for coffee. He would fill the time on the train playing with his new Christmas toy-- an iphone-- and making sure no one tried to get too close to my purse or his baby.
Twenty minutes until our scheduled meeting time. We were still o.k.. Our destination was only four stops away.
“Due to a malfunction at our Rosslyn station, we are experiencing delays this morning. We apologize for any inconvenience. Have a good day.” No one on the train could really understand over all of the noise what the broadcast voice was saying but we all pretty much figured it out during the long waits at each station between stop and go.
“You call her as soon as we get off the train. Let her know we’re on our way.” Robby was already getting his game plan together. Being late is not acceptable in his world and especially not today.
Only four stops. But traffic today was unusually onerous.
“We’re going to have to exit on 18th street. The elevator is on the other side of the station.” Normally, making a couple of extra blocks is not a big deal. Sure, it was a cold morning, but we were all nice and wrapped in our heavy winter coats. Being outside a little longer wasn’t even a problem. Walking those extra blocks, however, was going to be a painful process. Thinking that I needed a little extra protection from the cold, I put on my boots…my (very) high heeled boots. Big mistake.
Five strides ahead of me, pushing our sleeping daughter in the stroller, I could hear Robby laughing at me as I muttered something about having lasting knee problems from trekking over cobbled streets in these wonky heeled shoes.
It’s amazing what that man can hear when he wants to.
“There it is, the Old Executive Office Building.” I pointed to the little gray tent Jen had told me about when I made my “on our way” call. I had seen this place so many times before, but this time it was different. I was going in.
It wasn’t very long ago that I used to seek refuge here in Lafayette Park. The long hours and miserable conditions of my old office on 15th street made it necessary to get away (often) for sanity’s sake. The entrance to the Eisenhower Building was right next to a bench where Robby and I had shared an impromptu picnic a time or two.
The park was different today in other ways too. Construction is in high gear for the upcoming Inauguration parade. Bleachers are going up where the “tent lady” used to camp. (As an aside: the tent lady is a woman who has camped out in front of the White House for years. She is in protest over something, though we’re really not sure exactly what it is. Her signage is a little bit ambiguous. I’m pretty sure she’s against nukes. I get that from the big mushroom cloud with the diagonal line through it, and I know for sure that she feels I am a terrorist because I pay taxes. I know this because she yelled it at me one day just before I told her I was on my way back to work. Anyway, the rumor is that this woman is really an incredibly wealthy heiress whose family owns one of the large buildings nearby. I always did wonder where she showered. Apparently, her husband passed away and left her all of his money and she’s spent her time since that day camped out on Pennsylvania Avenue complaining about our government and people who actually work for a living. It all makes perfect sense, right. I wonder if they will give her an honored place in those bleachers?)
Once inside, we had just enough time to shed our heavy coats and take a quick tour of a few offices before it was time to bundle up once again and make our way to the South Lawn to watch a Presidential departure. Out of the Executive Office building, across a parking lot and through the north side of the White house we went.
Suddenly, as we entered the vestibule, there was a very loud, very serious “Stop! Get Back!” Unlike the garbled message earlier in the Metro, there was absolutely no question as to what this person was saying. It was very clear. We had just passed a guard and shown him our badges, but this voice was coming from another direction and appeared to be that of a woman. But who? I looked toward the voice and saw, a group of people with stunned expressions much like my own. In front of them was a very tall, thin, woman with arms outstretched and hands in the classic crossing guard position that matched her words exactly. Between us, a way was made and made wide by several serious folks moving both quickly and deliberately.
Even though I had no clue what was going on, I knew exactly where to look as everyone else who had a view down the corridor was gazing just around the corner, frozen in place, smiling, and speechless. I still hadn’t completely figured it out until the Commander In Chief unexpectedly entered the room. There he was. I can’t exactly explain it but, I wasn’t surprised—but I was—if you know what I mean. He was supposed to be on a helicopter in just minutes. This little trip back to the residence was most likely a last minute one to pick up something he needed. I wondered what it was.
Slowing his gait in a way that clearly made those serious men around him a little more serious (if that were possible) Mr. Bush warmly greeted his dumbfounded house guests.
“How are you guys doing?” He asked, trying to put us at ease. Clearly, we were not expecting to run into him in this way, and he knew it. Nearly stopped at this point, but still moving, he turned to look at each of us. Wow! This was an actual request and not just one of those throw-away questions given out of obligation.
“Very well, Mr. President.”, we all kind of stammered together, like we were greeting our teacher on the first day of class.
“Thank you all for coming.” All I could think at this point was “Where in the world is my camera?!?” I was also wondering whether or not it would be rude to take a picture anyway if I did have it. How odd it must be to run into complete strangers in your own home.
“Thank you, sir.” What a bunch of polite people we were.
“You have a Merry Christmas now.” He made sure to wave at each of us.
“You too, Mr. President.”
And then he was gone.
Giddy. That’s the word I would use to describe the mood of the room after our encounter. The previously very serious “hall monitor” was now laughing and making jokes about how she was going to take the absolutely adorable baby (Emma) home with her. Our escorts were all looking at each other and confirming how cool the whole thing just was. Apparently, it is rare to see the President that close, even for people who work there every day.
Moving along, we stepped out the door and into the Rose Garden. There we met a few reporters for the various news organizations that cover the White House. Everyone was very friendly and, of course, wanted to look at the beautiful smiling baby girl in the pretty pink dress.
The actual rope line experience was kind of secondary at this point. I’m thankful for that because I was able to step back and enjoy it more than I probably would have otherwise. We stood behind a group of young school children who had already taken their places (along with everyone else who was not running behind). Each one was so excited to be a part of this historic happening and also short enough for us to still have an unobstructed view. ;)
The three helicopters came in and you could hear the crowd making bets as to which one would land. It was like a giant hovering shell game. I was prepared for the noise but I was not ready for all of the moving debris from the lawn that came at us as the “winning” copter moved in for its landing,
The President made his way to the helicopter, stopping many times to wave at everyone and continuing to do so from his seat inside. The children in front of us were all cheering and taking pictures—waving and smiling back.
They soon lifted off from the lawn and joined the two other escort choppers as they flew off toward their destination. The sound, wind, and flying leaves soon settled and we all went about seeking our own escorts to get us back to our stuff and our certain-to-be less exciting day.
We took a few photos here and there and then we took a short cut back through the West Wing (we could go through it this time because the Chief wasn’t there). I particularly loved all of the photos in this part of the White House-- lots of pictures of W on the ranch, hauling hay, doing chores, getting muddy, laughing and grinning. I’m sure it brings him much comfort to look at these and remember that Texas still loves a man who will work hard and is not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Through all of the starts and stops, the detours and delays, even through the difficult steps in painful shoes, I would have to say that this morning was just about perfect. God’s timing is always perfect. He knows exactly where he wants us to be, when he wants us to be there and who he wants to be with us. He’s scheduled our days and has planned lots of great appointments for us. He’s willing to escort us to these amazing places if we will just trust and follow him.
There is no rope line between us and God. Rather, our relationship with Him is much like our meeting with the President today. God cares for us, he wants to know how we are, he wants us to speak back to him, he sees us, and he wants us to celebrate the birth of his son -- Jesus. I know she won’t remember this day, but I pray Emma will someday see these pictures and will think of these things and of all the great plans that God has for her.