Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dear Mr. President

Postcard from President Barack Obama.
I was standing on my back porch last summer when I heard my beagle Tiny engage in his daily greeting of the postal carrier, which involves racing back and forth between the front and side gates.  As soon as he spots the mail truck two blocks down the street, he is overcome with anticipation for the biscuit which surely will cross his dog lips.  No wonder the diets I put him on never seem to work.  Anyway, the postal carrier comes to the back gate and tells me he needs my signature on a Priority Mail delivery.  Great, I thought, another letter from my mortgage company.  At that time I had been unemployed for nearly two years, and was trying to save my home.  The young postal carrier handed me the envelope and I gasped.  There, typed on a plain 2.5 x 1 inch label, was the address of The White House.

What the hell was I doing getting a letter from The WhiteHouse?  It couldn’t be a bulk mailing, it cost $5.45 to send it.  I took the envelope into the kitchen and carefully pulled the little tab that opens the top of the envelope.  Inside, I found a smaller envelope containing a handwritten postcard.  I began to read.

Thanks for your moving letter.  Sometimes it takes awhile, but America marches toward equality and fairness.”

It was signed Barack Obama.

Barack Obama.  President of the United States of America.

I was stunned.  Stunned that not only had I just received a hand-written letter from the President, I could not recall having written to the President.  I did a quick scan of my sometimes faulty memory and had a fleeting vision of sitting at the computer typing “Dear Mr. President”.  But investigating exactly what I wrote had to wait.  I needed to verify this postcard was real.  I had to be prepared to defend the authenticity of my postcard to my right wing conservative friends (I only have one of those) and family (I have lots of those) and my doubting Thomas liberal friends (all the rest) who will claim it was; a) written by his staff, b) written by his secretary, or c) typed on a computer using a font created from his actual handwriting style (do they really do that?).  Where is your faith America?!

My first step in documenting the authenticity of this postcard was to verify it truly was handwritten.  I opened the top drawer of my vintage oak desk and took out a small hand-lens commonly used for close-up examination of plants.  I went over each written letter, carefully looking for sign of ink bleed, a slight lifting of the pen, anything that would prove these words were put on paper by pen and ink.

Next, I researched examples of President Obama’s handwriting, and found that indeed this postcard matched all the examples I discovered, letter for letter.

Finally, I began searching the internet for something that talked about whether President Obama responds to letters.  I found that of the thousands of letters sent to him, he does respond to a select few.  There is a large staff that reads every letter addressed to the President or The White House.  If they come across one that stands out and is reflective of a larger opinion or issue, they pass it on to his personal secretary.  He or she then reads through these and selects a chosen few to hand to the President. He reads 10 letters a day.

My letter made the cut.  The postcard was real.

Ok, so now I had to remember what I wrote.  I searched my Gmail account for emails with the keywords Obama, White House, Washington.  After scrolling down through solicitations and petition signature requests, I found it, an email dated February 24, 2011.  I had written  to President Obama at responding to an National Pubic Radio story I had heard that day about the President’s policy to not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  I briefly shared with him my story of growing up in the 1970’s in a small Michigan town, what life was like being someone of a different sexual orientation than most.  I shared some of the things that have happened to me since, and I told him I never thought I would hear a President stand up for me in my lifetime.  It was a short email, one large paragraph followed by two small ones.  I finished by thanking him for having the courage to do this.

The last time I wrote to a President was in the 1960’s, when I sent President Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson a Christmas card.  They sent me one back.

It is hard to express the depth of feelings that come over me when I read this postcard.  To have experienced the things I did in my younger life because of who I am (and sometimes still do) and then to live long enough to see the President of the United States, my President, stand up for ME is beyond words.  Yes there is much more work to be done to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ALL, but it is a far cry from the life I once knew.

Thank you Mr. President.

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