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Thoughts To and From the Vice President’s House

Last night, I went to the Vice President’s residence for an event.  It was my first time going to the Observatory, despite having lived here most of my entire life.  I knew the general vicinity of the residence; that you could see it from the end of Reno Road.  But I decided to take River Road for no other reason except that it was the way I used to get into the city when I cut school.

Not that I EVER cut school, kids.

It had been a very long time since I had driven down Wisconsin, and I felt this need to say hello to the buildings as I passed them.  The Dancing Crab, with the sign outside that used to say, “we have crabs!” to which Matt would always reply, “I do too, but I don’t advertise it.”  And the old site for the Outer Circle where I saw My Own Private Idaho six times.  Closed down Maggie’s Pizza, which never carded.  Closed down Jandara where we ate dinner the last night the twins were in the NICU.  Cafe Ole and the Sidwell campus where we’d go to dances during high school.  Cactus Cantina, my break-up restaurant where I asked everyone to take me if they ever had bad news so only one place would be ruined for me in the city.  The Cathedral, where we’d go to catch fireflies in the garden at night; where my cousin once whispered to me as I sat down on a bench, there’s a corpse inside of there; this building is filled with corpses.

The route between my childhood home and Georgetown is mentally strewn with corpses; closed businesses, receptacles of past conversations.


After waiting in a long security line to park the car (and after asking the guard not to judge my trunk since I had dissected a child’s car seat earlier in the day), I got in another line to go through physical security with the other 50 or so guests.  I could hear crickets outside, and I was trying very hard not to hear the crickets outside.  There was also piped in music entertaining us as we stood along the fence.

“This is just like Disney World,” I commented to the man standing behind me, who agreed.  “It’s like we’re waiting for a ride, and they’re entertaining us during the wait so it doesn’t feel quite so long.  The Vice President is classy to pipe in music.”

And then I realized that there was a five-piece band playing us in as we entered.

I ended up walking through the rooms, looking at the pictures, and talking with random people while we waited for the Bidens to enter.  When they did, they both spoke for about 20 minutes about breast cancer.  The Vice President’s speech was incredibly moving.  I didn’t think I would get so choked up, but there I was, starting to cry when he spoke about how close we were to a cure — not just to eradicate breast cancer, but all cancers.  When he talked about the importance of caregivers using the collective term “us” to illustrate how one person’s cancer affects all the people who care for and about that person.  He talked about men with breast cancer.  And he kicked the whole speech off by making the point that he got in trouble the first time he brought up breast cancer on the House floor; not because people were horrified by the disease itself but by the fact that he used the term “breast.”  Really, he’s an incredible speaker, and I wasn’t the only one who ended up wiping her eyes.


Dr. Biden spoke after him, pointing out various people at the party and their personal stories.  I missed part of what she was saying because there was a little girl standing near the platform in the center of the room, and the Vice President crossed behind his wife to sit down on the edge of the stage and encouraged the little girl to sit down next to him.  She was trying her best to look serious and be proper, but he was whispering things to her and being silly.  The whole thing was happening at my knees since I was standing next to the stage, and it was really cute.


The Vice President is really one of the warmest, unfussy, smartest people I’ve met in Washington.  He’s like that guy you get into a conversation with at Starbucks while you’re waiting for your drink; totally approachable and accessible.  Unpretentious.  He’d make a wonderful president.  And Dr. Biden came across as a bit more intense; very very smart.


Afterward, we got in a line and everyone had a moment with the Vice President and Dr. Biden, and then they put their arms around each person and took a picture.   If I had known I was going to be in a picture, I probably would have worn something else. I sort of felt like their child between them, and that we were taking our Christmas picture.  Not that I’ve ever taken a Christmas picture since I’ve never sent a Christmas card.  But it felt like a Christmas moment…

I’ll post it when they mail it to me.


And then there was more eating and drinking, but I went home so I could see the kids before they fell asleep and have my Special K.  As I walked outside, back into that cricket-y night, the bells from the Cathedral were ringing across the street.

I drove back past all those landmarks again, muscle memory making me turn onto Brandywine so I could loop back to River Road again.  I drove home without music; the car perfectly quiet except for the hum of the engine, the whisper of the road underneath my tires.


The message of the evening is still playing in my head: we are so close.  He pointed to an older child who was there with her mother and said that she would probably live to see the day where all cancers were eradicated.  That what seems like a fantasy to the older generations would be a reality for these younger ones.  Isn’t that an incredible idea?  A world without cancer?  I want to believe that it’s true and do anything I can do to help that become a reality.


1 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 11.06.13 at 7:52 am }

Amen. May we all see that day.

2 Maresi { 11.06.13 at 7:54 am }

What an amazingly special night. I guess Leslie Knope is right about the VP’s appeal. 😉

3 Pepper { 11.06.13 at 8:36 am }

I got teary reading this. How amazing.

4 Heather { 11.06.13 at 8:45 am }

What an inspirational evening. Not just for cancer but for the way the Vice President behaved.

5 KeAnne { 11.06.13 at 9:37 am }

What a wonderful evening! I hope he’s right about a cure, but I am more skeptical. It’s not that I don’t believe progress is being made, but I wonder if we will move from talking about curing cancer vs managing cancer. I think we are realizing cancer is more complex than we thought and may need to change our mindset on how we approach and treat it.

6 Katherine A { 11.06.13 at 10:21 am }

That sounds like an amazing evening!

7 loribeth { 11.06.13 at 10:35 am }

Say whatever you will about his politics, but this is a man who knows about grief and bereavement. He is always so eloquent when speaking about his own losses and comforting others who have lost loved ones. I hope he is right about a cure for cancer in the next generation.

8 deathstar { 11.06.13 at 11:29 am }

Well, I never thought I’d see the world with a black president of the United States, so I really hope I’m around for the cure for cancer. They really sound like amazing people and I’m happy you shared that moment with us. Compassion, it’s rare that politicians share that with people in a meaningful way.

9 Scooter { 11.06.13 at 1:56 pm }

This was an awesome post. Thanks for writing it.

10 luna { 11.06.13 at 2:12 pm }

not close enough today, unfortunately.
but encouraged by the hope and dedication.
what an amazing evening! love how you shared your muscle memory exercise too. xo

11 Shelby { 11.06.13 at 3:41 pm }

Big Biden fan here. With most politicians, the way they speak to the public feels so measured, so calculated, like they’re avoiding the real meat of the matter to protect themselves politically. It never feels that way with Biden. He has an incredible talent for communicating in what feels to be wholly genuine and honest. I would totally approach him in a Starbucks and I’m not one of those people who approaches random people!

What an event to attend! I surely hope we are near a cure.

12 Pam/wordgirl { 11.06.13 at 6:04 pm }


I love the writing here… Especially evocative is the landscape of the place you call home. I particularly love that. This was a difficult post for me to read as you might imagine. I have been meaning to visit here and thank you for all of the traffic you sent towards my blog. If anyone reads anything I’ve written I hope they read the things about Alicia.
As you know Mel, I lost my best friend to cancer this year. Many things stay with me but one of the most jarring was the fact that in 2013 a person could still die such a barbaric death from a disease like breast cancer; a death where she suffered, in the hospital, regardless of palliative care and modern conveniences. I naïvely thought that that kind of dying was decades behind us. I’m heartbroken to say that I was wrong. I love the spirit of the possibility that we are close to a cure but I fear that while we may be close to curing some cancers (I just heard on NPR that, for instance, blood cancers are incredibly treatable in ways they weren’t previously) that we still know very little especially about metastatic disease….That is, for the people who do get cancer and it returns it’s far less treatable than it should be in this day and age. I have made it my mission to continue to speak out on the half of women with metastatic breast cancer. Not enough research dollars go into metastatic breast cancer research… When someone called in fact asking for donations for breast cancer and I refused saying that not enough money went to metastatic research she asked me to repeat the word. She did not know the definition of metastatic. I don’t want to turn your comment section into my personal soapbox so please forgive me but if anyone wants to know more information about metastatic breast cancer this is a wonderful link:http://mbcn.org/developing-awareness/category/13-things-everyone-should-know-about-metastatic-breast-cancer/

Love to you,


13 Corinne Rodrigues { 11.07.13 at 2:58 am }

What an honour, Melissa! Thank you for sharing your experience. Although I live in India, I do so love to hear your Vice-President’s speeches – he comes across as being so ‘real’.

14 Tiara { 11.07.13 at 1:43 pm }

Beautiful post.

15 L A Cochran { 11.07.13 at 4:40 pm }

Very cool experience!

16 loribeth { 11.07.13 at 8:02 pm }

Did you see Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times? I thought of you & this post immediately as I read it.


17 Lori Lavender Luz { 11.08.13 at 1:13 pm }

You get to have so many cool experiences. Thanks for making me feel like I got to be right there with you.

18 It Is What It Is { 11.14.13 at 5:32 pm }

I, too, admire the vice president for his down-to-earth openness. I often wonder if trauma and grief swing the pendulum one of two ways, toward complete openness or hard heartedness (my mother and I are on both ends of the swing).

Because I am me, I have to ask how you got invited to this and what exactly ‘it’ was? Is that crass of me to even ask? I’m just so curious as I’m imagining a small-ish, intimate crowd with a friend of mine in the mix. I LOVE some of the things you get to do, the experiences you get to have and joyously live vicariously through you.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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