It’s always a treat to see my old friend Joe Biden with whom I served in the Senate. He was in St. Louis today at a fundraiser for U.S. Senate candidate Jason Kander. I recalled a story Joe told me in 2001 when I was sworn into the Senate three months after the loss of my husband, son, and friend in a plane crash. I recounted Joe’s story in my book, Don’t Let the Fire Go Out, and I tell it today because it always warms my heart. Since this is a food blog, I guess you’d have to label this post: Food for thought.
Joe Biden’s Heartwarming Story
Back in 2001, I had just taken my oath of office in the Old Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol. It was the same place Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster had served during the early days of our country.
As I stepped down from the historic dais, waiting there for me was Sen. Joe Biden, who had just been sworn in for a new term. He had lingered behind with the express purpose of speaking to me. Taking my hand, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want to tell you something you need to know.”
He said, “I first came to the Senate just weeks after I loss my wife and daughter in a car accident. I nodded my head acknowledging, that I remembered the incident. In 1972, his wife and one-year-old daughter had been killed while Christmas shopping.
Joe pointed up toward the dais on which we had both just stood and said, “Back in 1973, just as I stepped off that dais, angry and deeply grieved by the loss of my family, waiting for me right here in this very spot was Sen. John McClelland of Arkansas. McClelland grabbed my hand and looked me sternly in the eye and said, “Work—hard work—that’s what you need for what you’re feeling now. . . and he turned and walked off.”
Biden said, “I thought to myself, you old buzzard.” (Though as I recall Biden used a bit harsher word.) “How do you have the nerve to say that to me? You have no idea how bad I’m hurting or how tender my heart is with pain.”
Joe paused. “Then I later found out something I didn’t know about McClelland. The Arkansas senator had lost his wife some years earlier to spinal meningitis, followed by the death of all three of his sons—one in World War II . . . one in an auto accident . . . and another in a plane crash.”
Joe was passing on to me—in a much more gentle way—the wisdom he had gained from the old senator. I took the message to heart and dived into my duties headfirst, working 12 to 14-hour days six to seven days a week. I have been forever thankful for his stern, but meaningful advice.
Albert Schweitzer spoke of “the fellowship of those who bear the mark of pain.” Indeed, there is such a common bond that exists. I found it among members of the U.S. Senate on both sides of the aisle.