What miracles a good night’s sleep (longer than usual last night) can do to frame the new day. Emily, Kendra and David’s daughter, is not the only early riser today. I joined in too. A Kendra Breakfast Special enhances my already too short stay here in Alexandria. To witness firsthand the thoughtful and loving parenting of this couple gives me hope for the next generation.
Kendra and Otis (their senior citizen dog who loves car rides) drive me to the nearest metro station, Huntington (slightly north of Mt. Vernon). I’m totally psyched about today’s possibilities. What music can we play on the car radio to prepare me psychologically for today’s full schedule of appointments on Capitol Hill? Kendra and I examine the options and finally decide on “Lithium!” That sounds about right given recent activities on the Hill.
Returning to McPherson Station in DC where yesterday’s walk ended, I sit a short while in McPherson Park to recollect myself before proceeding. What will I say? How will I say it? What exactly am I asking my Congressional representatives to do? Why? Nathaniel’s story answers all those questions adequately. All I have to do is be mindful in the telling.
With the White House practically in front of me, I decide to call. The phone directory isn’t very helpful. I finally choose the comments & messages option. After describing to the responder in some detail my walk this spring, the White House wants a more simple version of my comment. Is mental illness ever simple? Was Nathaniel’s? I then ask to speak to a White House staff member. Not possible! Using every Asselin technique of persuasion honed over the last 65 years of my life, I tackle the challenge with fortitude and grace and from every possible angle. I want to talk to a responsible White House Staff member.
My hidden rationale: You took Tom Insel of the NIH away from my Monday afternoon appointment at NIH. Let me stop by to say “Hi,” and we’ll call it even. Mrs. Comments/Messages doesn’t have a category or protocol in place to handle my candid request. After 20 minutes have passed, she decides to hang up on me. What will you tell your boss when I report you to him next week?
Last Monday, the White House had a mental health symposium, but apparently it doesn’t seem interested in learning more about what mental illness might look like in Nathaniel’s compelling story.
Today’s foray into the political arena starts poorly. I better head to the Senate Office Building for my 11:30 with Senator Casey’s (PA) legislative staffers, Sara Mabry and Doug Hartman, followed by a scheduled photo shoot with Senator Casey at 12:30, and then on to Senator Toomey (PA) and Congressman Pat Meehan (PA) in the PM. Looks as if I’ve got a full day of conversations before me.
What brief descriptions would I use for each encounter? Senator Bob Casey’s staff are welcoming, good listeners. The photo shoot with the Senator is genuine and meaningful. In Senator Toomey’s Office, Theo Merkel, the legislative correspondent, gives me a few minutes, but not too long (in and out). The Senator is nowhere to be seen. As for Congressman Meehan, he’s in PA attending his 3rd son’s graduation from The Haverford School, but Senior Legislative Assistant Rachel Cook takes a long time to listen to my story, asks good questions, and visibly shows compassion for both Nathaniel’s and for our difficult journeys. The finale for the day is an unexpected visit to the office of Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano (CA), a
recommendation from yesterday’s AFSP visit. The congresswoman is back in CA at the moment, but her Sr. Legislative Asisstant/Mental Health Advisor, Ane Romero asks me excellent questions and invites me back for a future visit. Congresswoman Napolitano of California is a committed advocate for mental health. That last visit of the day becomes the cherry on top of today’s Capitol Hill sundae.
Aware of how late it is, I barely beat the rain as I walk the mere three blocks to Robert Hordan’s home, tonight’s host (former high school mate at St. John’s). His Independence Avenue address in the 300 block is the perfect place for me to crash tonight for tomorrow’s final day of advocacy. We happily greet each other, continue the lively conversations as we dine out to a local delicious restaurant, and make plans for tomorrow’s hardy breakfast. I’m grateful for a Capitol Hill “bonne adresse.”