Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

This rumpled tee-shirt doesn’t look like much now.  It’s sat in the bottom of my dresser drawer for 32 years.  Although I haven’t worn it since 1980, I haven’t given it up; it’s my evidence of the thrill of a great moment in American politics.

That June I was here in LA working at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker (as the firm was then known), trying my second-year law school best to convert my summer associateship into an offer to join the firm the following year after graduation.   I answered my phone to hear the law firm operator addressing me (this being the days before direct dial).  “Miss Kamei,” she said (this being the days before “Ms.”), “the White House is on the line for you.”  To this day, I have hoped she was impressed that the White House was calling a lowly summer associate.

I knew it could only be one person: Les, a family friend, who was high up in the Carter administration, a real West Winger.  He’d taken me to lunch at the White House and I got to peak into many of the famous rooms.  I knew that the President had asked Les to chair that summer’s Democratic National Convention in New York City.  But I didn’t know how Les why he would be calling me, let alone how he tracked me down.  

“We have our ways,” he chuckled.  “When are you coming back to school?”  The second week of August, one week early, because of law journal.  “Perfect!” he said, “You can come to New York the week before.  I’m finding that my convention volunteers are high school kids of delegates or their socialite mothers, and I need people who I can dispatch and think on their feet.  So I’m calling in all the grad and law students I know.  Tell your Orange County Republican parents hello and that we’ll take good care of you, and tell your fancy-pants law firm that the White House needs you to leave a week early.  Come find me in Madison Square Garden when you arrive.”  There was a little bit more to the conversation, but that really was about it.  Paul Hastings did indeed give me my offer a week early, and off I went.

All I saw of the Big Apple for my first visit ever that week was the inside of Madison Square Garden, wearing this tee-shirt over a khaki skirt and some low-level convention credentials I might have saved somewhere.  Since I worked on the Hill my first year of law school, I wasn’t as dazzled at seeing famous politicians, but as a “Press Aide,” I was thrilled to see Dan Rather, Harry Reasoner, and the other newscasters.  That convention was the last one which Walter Cronkite covered before he retired.  The closing shot of CBS was him looking over his shoulder waving at a bunch of us on the convention floor after all the balloons and confetti had fallen, holding up a sign that said, “We love you, Walter,” chanting, “Walter, Walter, Walter,” to get him to look.  My parents caught a glimpse of me on national TV then.

But politics being what it is, you can never account for when the unforgettable moments will happen which sear into social consciousness.   Carter might have captured that convention’s nomination, but Ted Kennedy captured its heart.  As he ended what is considered perhaps his most powerful address, he quoted from “Ulysses” by Lord Alfred Tennyson:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world.

Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

And then he closed, “The hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” 

Tears were streaming down the faces of just about everyone I could see, no matter whose sign they held.  I will never forget the sound as they all roared.  

I meant to watch some of the conventions last week and this week, but each night it seemed I ended up dealing with life instead: taking on the assignment of conducting the stake choir for this October’s stake conference, taking an 89-year-old friend some dinner, taking care of myself after the eighth round of Rituxan.  I'm feeling much better already, but the rumpleness of the tee-shirt seems to represent to me the divide of a life far removed from those four DNC press aide days.  How much more appropriate in my life now to remember Ted Kennedy's charge “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

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