To Obama With Love, and Hate, and Desperation
On a recent October morning in the White House mailroom, on the ground floor of the Executive Office Building just beside a loading dock, 10 interns sat at two long tables, each trying to get through 300 letters. Grab a bundle, sit down and read. It was pretty straightforward: Read. A girl doesn’t want her mom to be deported, and can the president please help? A guy finally admits to his wife that he’s gay, and now he would like to tell the president. A car dealer writes to say his bank is shutting him down, and thanks for nothing, Mr. President. A vet who can’t stop seeing what he saw in Iraq writes a barely intelligible rant that makes his point all the more intelligible: “Help.” An inmate admits to selling crack to all those people but he wants the president to know he is not a lost cause: “I have dreams Mr. President, big dreams.” A man can’t find a job. A woman can’t find a job. A teacher with advanced certification can’t find a damn job. A lesbian couple just got married; thank you, Mr. President. A man sends his medical bills, a woman sends her student-loan statements, a child sends her drawing of a cat, a mother sends her teenager’s report card — straight A’s, isn’t that awesome, Mr. President?
This pile, that pile, another pile over there; pull from the middle if you want. The narrative was sloppy and urgent, America talking all at once. No filter. The handwriting, the ink, the choice of letterhead — every letter was a real object from a real person, and now you were holding it, and so now you were responsible for it.
Mr. Obama — My President,
In 2007 I was proud of my hands. They had veneered calluses where my palms touched my fingers. Cuts and scrapes were never severe. Splinters and blisters merely annoyed me. With a viselike grip and dexterous touch my hands were heat-tolerant and cold-ignorant. I was nimble when whittling or when sharpening an ax. I could exfoliate with an open palm when my wife’s back itched or my cat arched for a rub. My nails were usually stained after a chore; they were tougher, not cracked, seldom manicured. My hands defined my work, passions, my life.
After 23 years as a land surveyor and nearly 2 years unemployed, I miss my career and my old hands. I kneel nights and clutch new hands together, praying we all can recover what seems lost. May God guide your hands to mold our future.
Thank you for listening to the Citizen I am,