If you go to Whitehouse.Gov and find the second name down the list, you’ll see his—the forgotten man these last few days (maybe the last eight years) but the one man whose ability to countenance personal tragedies has probably made it easier to understand our current state of misery and, I hope, make this whole affair easier for the president.
I am referring, of course, to Joe Biden.
When we talk about public service—and the recent campaigns have underscored that term: Clinton’s devotion to it and Trump’s ignorance of same—we can’t overlook the 73-year-old Biden whose political career may be winding down. If this is the end, it would be a shame, but a decision like that is well above my pay grade, and even mentioning it is presumptuous on my part. The point is, Joe Biden knows tragedy.
He lost his wife and daughter to a traffic accident mere weeks after becoming the youngest ever elected U.S. Senator. Two sons survived, but one of them, Beau, died in 2015 after a long battle with brain cancer. Throughout Mr. Biden honored his elected responsibilities, serving his state and the nation. Joe Biden knows tragedy.
Now we think we do, and we may be right. I find myself reluctant to go anywhere there might be crowds discussing the election. I feel like a character in that Hawthorne short story who sees the stain of sin on everyone and withdraws further into himself. It’s a sour view of mankind, and I hope it’s temporary, but I feel it. Exacerbating that feeling is this: in an adjacent town where I once taught, two out of every three voters opted for Trump. I am still astounded by that. Did all those former students really ignore the great thinkers and renounce them in favor of Donald Trump? Did they consider Emerson a loser and Twain a fool? And when Whitman wrote “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear” did they think he was talking about Christmas? Did they gain no perspective from all those history, psychology, and sociology courses and the instructors’ diligence? Are analogies too difficult for them—Hitler/Trump? Did my colleagues and I really do so bad a job that two out of every three voters either renounced their principles or exercised their lack of same and voted for a racist?
Insert scream here—or let me do it.
So staying home is preferable. I don’t want to have to say to anybody “I understand where you’re coming from” because I really don’t. Nor do I want to. We all need some quality time—and that’s where Joe Biden comes in. A beer or a coffee with Mr. Biden might help us feel a little better about ourselves and the world around us, maybe even put things in perspective.
But he’s not likely to drop by—which brings up a more important issue. Those of who are suffering probably feel an ongoing malaise, but those who are suffering alone face the most desperate challenge. Admittedly there is a discernible pall over my house—the TV is off and my wife and I give thanks every evening for Netflix and Amazon where the foolish seers of the news networks can no longer hoodwink us with their expertise. But although neither one of us can curtail each other’s misery, at least we can share it. Facing this alone would be unbearable. If you know anyone attempting that, pick up the phone and start commiserating.
And finally, please remember—although President Obama had to endure ninety minutes of the deer-in-the-headlights expressions of Donald Trump yesterday, even the president was able to spend the afternoon with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, extolling their achievements and joking about each other’s lives. Joe Biden, as always, was there, proving again—in case we’ve forgotten, that into every life, some sun must poke through. Let’s try to remember that and help others remember it too…at least until that stain goes away.