Monthly Archives: October 2014

On Ben Bradlee

One of the great pleasures of being an employee at Washington National Cathedral is the opportunity to be a fly on the wall, at some incredible moments in history. Such was the case today, when I was allowed to attend the funeral of Benjamin C. Bradlee, former Executive Editor of the Washington Post. Just covering a position in the front hall, as the public filed past fairly intense security measures, seeing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein arriving together, as I said in my Facebook status, was enough to drive my History-O-Meter right off the scale.

I was a ten year old boy, when Watergate happened. It was a hard thing to follow, for a ten year old, and, honestly, what I actually remember most was the green, felt tablecloth in the Senate Committee meeting room, which was so like the one my parents and grandparents used, when they played cards. Of course, in the following years, I’d learn the Watergate story from the movie, All The President’s Menand then read the book itself. Of particular fascination, was the fact that it was also, for me, a hometown story, and many of the key figures were still around. Just being a Washingtonian, I met Katherine Graham a few times, back in the 80s, might see Woodward or Bernstein around the city from time to time, and even became good friends with Paul Leeper, the “Old Clothes Unit” Metropolitan Police sergeant, who responded to the break-in call at the Watergate, but, for the longest time, I never met Ben Bradlee, the gruff, forceful character, who had so vigorously striven for the story… the TRUE story.

Years later, I read Mr. Bradlee’s memoirs, and my admiration for the man grew exponentially. From his service on naval destroyers during World War II, to the his insistence on giving honest press to the situation of public facility integration, the issue of segregated public pools mostly. to the Watergate story that would forever sear his name into the annals of American political history, it seemed the underlying thread to this man’s existence was a deep commitment to seeing the United States of America constantly moving forward in the realization of its promises.

Benjamin C. Bradlee August 26, 1921 - October 21, 2014

Benjamin C. Bradlee  August 26, 1921 – October 21, 2014

A few years ago, I saw Ben Bradlee walking up Wisconsin Avenue, in front of Washington National Cathedral. Realizing it might be the only opportunity I might ever have to address myself to this man, I stepped up and extended my hand. “Mr. Bradlee,” I said. “I just wanted to tell you I’ve read your memoir, and I think you’re a hero. Thank you.”

Then I got my Ben Bradlee moment. He chuckled at my seriousness, and in that raspy, but intensely forceful voice, he said something I’d bet anyone who has ever met him could imagine. It began with a sharp, “Ha!” Then he went on… “You’ll get over it,” and his eyes twinkled. What does one even say to that? He moved on up the sidewalk, and I returned to my work.

As the world said good-bye to Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee today, a reply came to my mind. “No, Mr. Bradlee, I don’t think I will.”

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To The Man In The White Tesla (or How Getting Cut-off In Traffic Became a Gift From God)

Dear Sir,

I don’t know you personally, but I want to thank you, publicly, for what you did for me today. It was far more important than you know.

As you’ll recall, it all started at the intersection of Goldsboro and River Roads, on the afternoon of Saturday, October 25, as we were making the two-lanes-left, left turn from Goldsboro onto northbound River. You drifted from the inner lane to the outer, as you made the turn, resulting in cutting me off in the outer lane of the turn. Let me tell you a little about who you cut off. I’m a man, who is having significant difficulty moving through this life. I suffer from fairly constant depression and have had a particularly hard couple of weeks. In fact, just yesterday, I was rear-ended on Wisconsin Avenue, by a woman, who was too busy talking on the phone to press on the brake petal of her mobile telephone booth. Out of the car, in that case, and asking whether she was talking on the phone, she muted her Bluetooth earpiece, looked me right in the eye, and said, “No.” I probably should have been flabbergasted, but I’ve come to expect such behaviors from the rich and privileged, who are driving on the streets of Bethesda, Maryland; their hurry more important than the hurries of anyone else around them. Work is hard, home is hard, and everything in between. You cut off an already very unhappy man.

You know what happened next. I, having suffered yet another of life’s constant indignities, the egregious offense of being dangerously cut-off in traffic, began to fly into a rage. I don’t often think of myself as an angry or rage-ful person, but, like I said, the past few weeks have been particularly hard. By the time I’d caught up with and was beside you, what had been a moment of rage had already subsided to an energetic urge to have you understand, if you weren’t aware, you had made a dangerous mistake. By the time I was beside you, your window was down, and only God knows, in a world full of road rage, where things might’ve gone next. I yelled, “TWO LANES LEFT!” and put up two (not one) fingers. When your hand came up to your ear, indicating you hadn’t heard me, it could, in any road rage situation, have meant something entirely different, further stoking an angry situation. It also occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, you were actually giving me an opportunity to be heard. I said it again, as we were slowing down to a traffic light… “TWO LANES LEFT!” Your response floored me.

“I know,” you replied. “I realized it after I’d done it, but I want you to know…” By now we’re sitting side-by-side at the traffic light and you looked right into my eyes… “I am really, very sorry I cut you off.” BAM! Life-changer. Faith restorer. Gift from God.

I don’t know if you’re religious at all. Spiritual, Ethical Atheist, or none of those things, but your apology was so sincere, so honest, so earnest, so direct and so audible, my rage ceased and my reaction was a visual “namaste” and a sheepish comment about your very cool car. You even went on to explain that, as cool as they are, Teslas have significant vision and sight-line restrictions. “Still cool,” I said, “and I want you to know just how much I appreciate your apology.”

The light changed and we moved apart. Perhaps that was the end of it for you, but as I drove away, I heard a quote in my head from the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”… “So shines a good deed in a weary world” (which I’ve just learned originated with Shakespeare). So shines a good deed in a weary world. Sir, your choice to not react angrily was a good deed. Your apology was an even greater goodness. Still driving away from it, I felt my whole spirit lift. You are a good man. That’s what I strive to be. You might’ve even been an angel, driving a very clean, white Tesla. Your upstanding behavior was outstanding, and I felt the weight of weeks of darkness lift. You put me back in mind of the things that are truly important, and modeled a wonderful example of honesty, humility and calm restraint. Thank you.

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