To attend a White House Christmas Party was an experience not to be missed. On December 7, 2011, I was the guest of Christy Bowe, a member of the White House Press Corps and a former student of the Ursuline Academy, Bethesda, Md. from the 1960s. We first met when I was the music teacher for all the grades, and she a lively fourth grader who loved to come in and see the little ones in my class. We have remained friends all these years, and we had a delightful reunion on this festive occasion.
Stunned at the invitation, and undaunted by the torrential rains, walking through puddles, and standing on long security lines, I felt an awe that never waned. We arrived at 6:30 in the evening and immediately received a card indicating that we would be seeing the president at 7:15. Christy was determined I was going to see everything from the various models of Bo, the dog of the house, to the white-chocolate display version of the White House, to the striking portrait of Abraham Lincoln with his compelling message carved in stone beneath it.
It was a treat to see so many faces familiar from TV newscasts. I had my picture taken with Ed Schultz, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell (I learned that she grew up in New Rochelle, walked by The Ursuline School every day, and played the violin). We met David Gregory and a score of Christy’s colleagues. I have a proprietary feeling now as I see them on screen: I know you, I think.
Then the moment came for us to get on line to see the President and First Lady. I drew myself in, determined to fully experience this moment, knowing it would be brief. I knew exactly what I was going to say, having pondered and prayed about it since the November day the invitation was received. We were in that room all of five minutes, and there were two groups ahead of us. You get the picture! The Marines were very gracious as they took our purses and moved us along swiftly around corners, with directions as to who would go first, and who would stand where. As it turned out, I was to be next to the President, contrary to what we had thought. I came before him, looked right into his eyes, and said “I pray for you every day.” To which he responded, “Thank you, I need that.” Then we were side-by-side for the picture, and I continued: “Of course for your safety and well-being but also for wisdom and courage.” Again, “Thank you,” and “Where are you visiting from?” When I responded, New Rochelle, NY, he said “Thank you for coming.” As I had been talking with him, Christy had been telling Michelle Obama that I had been her music teacher in the early grades: “I hope this helps to make up for all the grief I caused her!” This elicited a warm reaction from Michelle who greeted me with a huge smile, a big hug, and ”How wonderful! Be sure she shows you everything.”
And that was it. We left the room swiftly and went on to meet and greet and eat some more, and to view all the beautifully decorated trees, the Crèche, and the White House piano, which I pretended to play, posing for a picture. The real musicians who were playing there stepped aside for me to pose. Christy knew how to get a good picture, by the beautiful White House Tree. And then, on the way out, we heard a youth choir from the Bronx singing carols.
And what do I take away from all of this? The realization that these journalists and the President are indeed flesh and blood people who are governing us and bringing us the news we do and don’t want to hear. I realize how deeply they need our prayerful support. Now, the front doors of the White House are more than just beautiful. They speak to me of all who pass through them from around the world. Pictures of the president bring back Lincoln’s words and give new depth and meaning to my prayers for “wisdom and courage” as he tries to lead his country in the ways of justice and peace.