Last month my wife, Lady Char and I drove past the White House for what was to be her last time, before the cancer meanly took her away from me. When we were two little kids growing up in the steel mill town of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, we never thought that we would one day dine at the White House not once, but several times.
So much has changed in the White House area since Islamic terrorists forced the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue. Previously, anyone could drive right along the northern wrought iron fence and gawk, as tourists do, trying to relish every detail of the majestic home of our Presidents, of Lincoln, FDR and Reagan.
I still remember the first time we were invited to attend a White House social function. It was during President Ford’s Administration and as we walked around “The House” we kept asking ourselves what it must feel like to live there? Later I helped General Bob Yerks orchestrate President Carter’s inauguration. After that invitations almost became routine … assuming White House invitations ever become routine.
At a ceremony I supervised at Arlington National Cemetery I once introduced my young teenage daughter, Natasha, to President Reagan. Fortunately Nancy wasn’t there to see them take an immediate liking to each other and stroll off chatting, with Lady Char and me and the Presidential retinue trailing along behind.
Reflecting on those days often reminds me of some of the useful things I’ve learned from Lady Char while we walked together along the road of life. First, it is important to always remember who you are, what you stand for and to act in character. Second, it helps to prayerfully turn your principles and standards into habits. That way you don’t have to think about what’s right or wrong, good or bad, or smart or stupid. Life and your actions flow naturally from situation to situation.
Third, it’s amazing how much you can learn from just listening and observing. I know what I think and believe, so I can’t learn much new by monopolizing conversations. It’s far more educational and illuminating to listen to what others have to say.
Fourth, marriage is a profession, not just a happening. To be successful takes a lot of practice, patience, humility and hard work. For example, I’ve learned that anger and love are not opposites. When I got angry with Lady Char — and we all sometimes get angry with our spouses — it did not mean that I loved her less. It simply meant that we were having a heated disagreement. When the disagreement was over and the contentious issues resolved, we loved each other just as much as before the disagreement happened, perhaps even more.
One of Lady Char’s most memorable visits to the White House occurred after having visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in northwest Washington, DC. That day the medical technicians injected a radioactive dye into her veins and then watched (using x-rays) as it worked its way through her system. From there she went directly to the White House for coffee with First Lady Barbara Bush.
As she passed through the White House security sensors, miniscule amounts of radioactive matter still present in her blood set off the radiation detectors. This was not a case of just turning around and going back through the detectors again to determine whether or not it was a false alarm.
The detection of radioactivity set off the entire White House alarm system and alerted the security apparatus that something dangerous was afoot. In response, the Secret Service guards miraculously appeared from everywhere. Her radioactive blood had scrambled the entire White House security system. Yes, they finally did let her in and reopen the White House to normal visitor traffic.
Another valuable lesson Lady Char taught me was how easy it is to feel sorry for ourselves and to forget that how we live our lives is a deliberate choice. When we get out of bed in the morning we have to make a choice. We can choose to have a good day, a bad day or a marginal one. Attitude is everything.
At the same time it’s important to recognize that all sunshine makes a desert. We all need some rain in our lives, especially if we want to grow and prosper. These are some of the things I’m reminded of each time I pass the White House.