Saturday, May 4, 2013

Nice to meet you Mr. President.

It’s been a week and I’m still on cloud 9. From what you ask? From bursting with pride over the love of our country, that’s what. I will warn you now that this is long, but with so many great moments, I can’t leave any out.

It all started a few months ago when I got an email asking if I would be willing to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the dedication of President Bush’s library in Dallas. The request supposedly came from the big man himself which is hard to believe. But so be it.  

I met ‘W’ a year ago on his W100 mountain bike trip where he brings 20 wounded warriors in for 3 days of mountain biking. It was 3 days I’ll never forget for many reasons, one of them being the dance I got from Bush on the last night, and a picture that’s made it’s way around and pictured here. I left that trip with a big place in my heart for our former president. Politics aside, he is an incredible man and has some serious mountain biking skills. Passionate about our country, a supporter of our troops and grateful for his family. So when this opportunity came, it was a quick, yes, I’d be honored to be there.

Knowing how much my parents would enjoy it, I invited them both, and they both flew into Dallas for the library dedication, which makes all of this even better.

On the morning of the dedication we arrived at the event and I had a quick walk through. Walk up here, stand, say the Pledge here, etc. A little nerve wracking knowing all 5 living Presidents would be on stage with me and that this was being broadcast live around the nation. I have said the Pledge of Allegiance thousands of times, but it never seemed so important and I said it over and over making sure I wouldn’t forget the words.  
Those of us with gold tickets were allowed in this 'Café 43' until 30 min prior to the event. I was only allowed one guest here and my mom won that one against my dad (I let them choose) and my dad was out in the silver section. It was a little surreal seeing seats for my mom and I in the section right next too the President’s daughters, the foreign dignitaries, and the 2nd row back from the stage.
When the time came, they escorted everyone out to their seats except those that were to go on stage from the back. Turns out that was me. And just me. The others that would be on stage would be coming from their seats, as their portion was later in the program. I was escorted into this empty hallway and told to wait. I thought this was a little strange as the event was close to starting and there was all sorts of commotion as you would expect with a live event, thousands of people and all the living presidents together for the first time in years.

So here I was, in this hallway, alone, wondering what on earth was going on. Suddenly, from around the corner, come the secret service followed by Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush Sr and Carter. Yes, ALL 5 living presidents, with their wives. Unsure on what to do, I took a stance against a wall not wanting to get in the way as I realized the magnitude of this moment. It grew even more when Bush rounds the corner, looks at me, looks down at my leg, interrupts the conversation he is having and says,’ let me introduce you to my friend’ Following this is a blur as it is easily the most historic moment I have ever been a part of. As all the Presidents and their wives circle around and President Bush tells them about me. He then introduces them all and I am left almost speechless as I say over and over, Nice to meet you Mr. President, nice to meet you Mr. President and so on. As we are standing in this circle, I can’t help but think of first, after the events of Boston, that this is a crucial moment for the safety of our country. But 2nd, I had never felt so honored and so humbled. Me. With the Presidents and their wives. Surrounded by Secret Service. Oh my.
As the circle dispersed Obama turned to me to ask about my life in Chicago. I mention prosthetics and Dare2tri and we spoke for a few minutes. He proceeds it with a handshake and says, I’m proud of you, as he handed me his coin. Then Bush comes over, puts his arm around me and the talk continues. This time with some laughs, as President Bush is always one with a quick joke or to make you smile. What a moment it was.

As the event starts, the Presidents all walk on stage. Condaleeza Rice mentions that she’s nervous about saying the names of all the foreign dignitaries and walks out. I wait a few min and then it’s my turn. I walk out onto this stage as the color guard passes by. They announce my name; I put my hand over my heart, and confidently said the Pledge, remembering every word. As I finished and started to walk down to my seat, Bush yells out, ‘Atta girl Melissa!’ a phrase commonly heard on the W100 last year and one that always brings a smile.
The dedication continued, each President taking his turn, reminiscing about this great man. On this day, political views didn’t matter. What matters was that he had led our great country and this was a time come together and honor him. It was a moving moment when Bush Sr spoke. A short speech, as his son prefers. Being sick and recently in the hospital, he got a welcome applause from the crowd. As he finished the crowd rose and stood for him, in appreciation for all he has done. It was than that Barbara Bush and his son stood and helped him out of his wheelchair for a brief moment as he slowly stood. Pink socks and a pink tie and a big smile.

When it was time for President Bush to speak, he had his usual humor and speech in a way that makes you want to listen for a long time. He finished with, ‘And I will always believe, that America’s best years are yet to come’ And with a wink he finished, showing a little emotion as sat down to take it all in with the rest of us.

After the ceremony there was a lunch that my mom joined me for. President Bush made a round to all the tables and we got to congratulate him and get a few more pictures. And then we got to tour the incredible library. One that goes over his time as a President, remembers the trials and those that lost their lives in 9/11 and other exhibits to give you insight on the life if a President. And an exact replica of the Oval office. If you are ever in the Dallas area, I highly recommend you take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

As the day turned into night, there was one final event called the Lighting of the Freedom Hall. A perfect night, a historic day and here we were, back at the library, with 15,000 other people listening to some of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard that make up the Army choir. When they sang my favorite song, God Bless the USA, (also know as Proud to be an American) the crowd started to sing along and you could feel the patriotism in the air. And when the song ended, the USA chants began, and then the music and the fireworks and the lighting of Freedom Hall. To say I was bursting with American Pride was an understatement.

My parents and I went back to the hotel that evening reminiscing on the historic day we had just been a part of. If it weren’t for the pictures, I’m not sure I would have believed that I had been a part f it all. A day filled with honoring the life of a great man. A day filled with American pride and patriotism. A day filled with the historic event of meeting all 5 living Presidents and being introduced as one of his ‘friends’. The big names, the perfect blue sky, my parents there to look on…Oh what a day it was. I am a lucky, lucky girl.

You see here some of the pictures from that day. The one that has Bush with his arm around me and Obama solemnly looking on. This picture captures a powerful moment. But one that is not accurate to the situation as Obama was every bit engaged in the conversation as Bush was. I have always prided myself as being non-political and believing in whomever is in charge of this country. Because let’s be honest, I believe in America, and the people that vote on our great leaders.

So, it was a day indeed. A day that falls near the top of one of my best days ever. As I mentioned, I am still on cloud 9.

And in case you didn’t hear me the first time, I love America.