Mikayla Damon does not seem like the sort of person who meets presidents. I met her a few months ago at summer camp. We stayed in touch and talked on the phone about music and school and people we knew. And then one day, my phone rang. It was Mikayla, voice full of proud mischief.
“Guess who I met, Russell?”
I had no idea. I guessed Paul McCartney. She laughed. Dick Cheney?
No way. She didn’t mean . . .
“You met the freaking President of the United States?!”
“See, my dad was in Afghanistan, and he died in January, so then Bush was coming to Maine, so I met him.”
Yeah, she said it like that. I think that sentence defines making a long story short. But I wanted to hear the long story.
I called her up later with questions ready. What followed was an extremely strange interview. Her little brother and his friend were running into her room and trying to steal her clothing, repeatedly, while screaming. When we got talking, though, her answers were worth it. She didn’t say so many words, but the things she said had a lot of meaning. She told me that life without her dad was “bad.” And that one word has so much more meaning than the pages of garbage someone could say.
National Guard Captain Patrick Damon joined the military in October 1986. He wanted the help with college tuition, Mikayla said, and he wanted to help other people. As an engineer, he did building work and disaster relief for the National Guard. Damon died of what was first reported as a heart attack. Later, Mikayla and her family learned the autopsy showed no sign of a heart attack. This has been really upsetting for them, understandably.
Damon was active as a Democrat in Maine state politics. His wife and Mikayla’s mom, Hildy Halley, was also politically active. When her husband died, she contacted her senator. She wanted to talk on the phone with President Bush. That’s not too unusual. A lot of people would like to talk to him. What’s unusual is that she got to. She got a call from the White House saying she could meet the President face to face.
Mikayla told me she was over at a friend’s house.
“Then my mom called, and she told me the White House had called and said we could meet the President. She said it was something she really needed to think about. Then she decided we would meet him. And we did.”
“So what was it like to meet the President?” I asked, still incredulous.
“Surrrreal.” Mikayla is queen of one-word answers.
“What’s he . . . like?” I asked.
“He was really apologetic. And nice. Really nice, and really respectful. He’s a nice guy,” she said. “He’d make a great neighbor. An awesome dude to have next door. He just . . . well, I don’t want him to run the country. He sucks at that.”
Probably the best analysis of Bush I’ve heard. It’s good to keep things in perspective. Anyway, if you ever wondered what the guy is like in person, now you know. From that, it sounds as though you won’t hear any more Bush-bashing jokes from Mikayla here on out. But no. The next day she emailed me the “Bush sings ‘Bloody Sunday’” video.
“My mom was really vocal about, y’know, not agreeing with him,” Mikayla had said on the phone. “She tried to bring up politics. He said that there was ‘no point.’”
In researching the family, I found out that I wasn’t the first to seize on the story. I found Mikayla’s mom’s account of the meeting online. She reported to blogger Greg Sargent:
“I talked to him about how important this person was to me. It’s not just a soldier who died. Lives are changed forever. I said, ‘This doesn’t make sense to me.’ He said, ‘Terrorists killed three thousand people, we had to go to war.’ I said, ‘Well, who put the Taliban into power? The United States did.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to have a philosophical debate over politics.’ The whole conversation was very gentle.”
At this news, the Blogosphere briefly erupted. Anti-Bush citizens of the Internet railed at his insincere sorrow, and his supporters attacked them for being terrorists.
And then some other story surfaced and they forgot.
In our society, it seems, we sometimes have so much happening and so many people and things to pay attention to, we can’t focus our attention on things. I’m not saying that everyone should think about Patrick Damon for the rest of their lives, but maybe we should be more reflective and less compulsive. We only care if someone died if it affects an election, or the price of oil, or what happens in Iraq. Maybe we should try to realize that one human life has a huge, huge value. It’s hard; I know it is. Kids in Africa starve to death every few seconds. Every time we turn on the TV or radio someone is dying somewhere. We’re used to death; we don’t think about what it means. Here’s what death means: Mikayla Damon’s dad is dead. He’ll never be there to help with homework or yell at her to go to bed. He’ll be there always, with her, but he won’t be alive.
Mikayla met the President. Hildy Halley told him what she thought about the War. Their lives go on. After meeting them, does Bush think differently about this stuff? Maybe. But probably not.
Make your own conclusions; I’m with Mikayla. I say it’s all surreal.
By RUSSELL WEISS-IRWIN, Street News Service
Reprinted from Spare Change News, Cambridge MA, Feb. 26. © Street News Service: www.street-papers.org.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/03/07/mar-7-2007-entire-issue