The email arrived in my work inbox late in the afternoon of March 30th. The sender’s name was unfamiliar to me and subject line read “INVITATION” in all caps. Normally, I would smirk at the perceived need for the upper case letters and delete the note without reading it. I get random email invitations at work all the time — mostly to webinars and conferences which I have no intention of attending – so there really is no need to YELL in the subject line. But something caught my eye in the small preview window on my screen. A logo…. The White House.
I knew that this event was inevitable after anxiously watching Congress pass the legislation earlier in the week. And I knew my name had been submitted for consideration to attend. But I didn’t think I would make the cut. The JOBS Act was a bill for which I had been advocating alongside others, but in my head there was a long queue of more worthy folks in front of me to join the celebratory signing. But no – with Congress out of session, I received my invitation along with the other A-listers, although I’m guessing most of them didn’t squeal and do a HAPPY DANCE.
If you ask me MoB readers, I might show you how to do the HAPPY DANCE someday. But only if I get invited back to the White House or am extremely inebriated. The latter is more likely.
Because from the very beginning I knew this was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity – and the essence of such an opportunity is the whole “ONCE” part. And for me, it defined the experience from beginning to end.
With this invitation came an offer to be in the company of greatness – The President of the United States – and to celebrate in a huge way an accomplishment in which I had a small part. While I was fairly certain I wouldn’t get close enough to breathe the same air as the Commander in Chief, the exclusivity was not lost on me. And with it came an unanticipated amount of pressure to do “ONCE” just right.
I didn’t waste much time au pining on whether I would interrupt my Spring Break to attend the event – or wring my hands over whether I was worthy – steps a younger version of me might have taken. Instead, I called those closest to me to tell them the good news (because it’s not real until it’s shared) , made the necessary travel arrangements (giving myself plenty of time to get where I needed to be), and went shopping for a new dress (because “ONCE” has its privileges.)(Although when I finally revealed the event I shopping for to Brittany, the shop girl, she was not very impressed. Note to self: Next time, tell her you are going to meet Justin Bieber.)
As the day and hour approached, my excitement turned to anxiety as I worried about my security clearance and getting to the designated area on time. But once through the White House gates, pure adrenaline kicked in as I found myself in the Rose Garden, under the White House balcony on a picture perfect Spring Day. It was like stepping into a favorite story book where you recognized everything around you despite the fact you never laid foot there before.
I was fortunate to be able to share this event with my colleagues who understood the enormity of what had been accomplished – but my family and friends would hear about it second hand. I would be their conduit and I felt a tremendous amount of responsibility to get it right for them. It was here where I had to make some critical decisions.
I had the choice to savor it for myself and soak it all in — or do my best to capture it for others. I chose the latter, taking the time I had in the Rose Garden to snap as many pictures as I could. I was not alone in my strategy. I was handed countless iPhones and asked to take pictures of many people there – both for my colleagues and complete strangers – so that the event would not slip through our fingers once we left the White House grounds. It was a photo frenzy from start to finish.
And if you ask me what President Obama said before he signed the bill we all worked so hard to have passed, I couldn’t tell you. I was texting my family, offering my exact location vis-à-vis the podium… and taking a few more pictures. I can say the President sounds exactly the same live as he does on TV – looks the same, too. Being 20 yards away from him isn’t much different than watching him on a screen somewhere. But I loved being there with my colleagues. I felt proud and recognized and important. And that was better than the President, and the Rose Garden and the new dress all put together.
Except for one thing…
After all the pomp and circumstance, I returned to my family who was anonymously enjoying their Spring Break in Rhode Island with my in-laws. Whereas the White House was “ONCE,” the rest of my weekend comprised experiences I have had – and will continue to have– countless times in my life. After relaying additional details and showing pictures from my trip, I fell comfortably back into the same old routine. We went out for lunch, walked around downtown, and spent too much money at the arcade and candy shop. We sat around noshing and listening to Noah play The Clash on his ukulele, I went for a run down by the beach, and we had our Passover Seder.
No adrenaline. No pressure to savor these everyday moments or fear of squandering them. No need to share them with the world to make them real. It felt remarkably good to just “be.”
I loved everything about being invited to the White House, but I wasn’t prepared for what struck me the most about the day — which was an overwhelming sense of relief to return to the mundane. The ubiquity and accessibility of the wonderfully ordinary is truly something to behold. But it is often forgotten. I was incredibly thankful for my “once in life time” chance for a number of reasons — but mostly for the reminder that it’s the “more than once” times in my life for which I am most grateful.