Proposal for the Foreword:
Mishaps occur in everyone’s life. We don’t remember most of them because their consequences are not very big. We fall down when we are first starting to walk. Our first attempts at riding a two-wheel bicycle result in scraped knees. We continue to get numerous “boo-boos” and “owies” in our younger years. They’re part of growing up, part of the learning process, part of stretching our boundaries and seeing what we can do (or maybe even what we can get away with).
But these mishaps, scraps, boo-boos, and owies don’t become a part of who or what we become. They are just some of the many, many things that happen in our daily lives from early on in our childhood even into the later years of our life. As important as they might have seemed at the time, there are so insignificant that we can’t remember them years later, months later, maybe even days later. They have no lasting meaning, no lasting impact.
But for many of us, there will be things that happen that are much more impactful, and that we will remember for a very long time, perhaps even our entire lifetime. The Ancient Greeks had a word these impactful events: tragoida. The literal translation of this is “goat singer.” I’ll leave it up to you to dig more into that. In English, we use the word “tragedy.”
Merriam-Webster gives a simple definition for tragedy as “a disastrous event.” Examples of tragedies include the December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor; the World Trade Center and other attacks on September 11, 2001, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Each of us, or perhaps family members, might have, or might not have, been personally impacted by any of them. But they certainly were disastrous events.
It is a fortunate few who live an entire life without being affected by tragedy. President Kennedy’s assassination was just one of many tragedies in the larger Kennedy family. Each of them had to have had a significant impact on the other members of the family.
As you will read in this book, lead author Stuart Gustafson and others have suffered their share (perhaps even more than their share) of tragedy. Nothing against them, but they certainly aren’t as well known as the Kennedy family. Tragedies are personal, and they can impact an “unknown” person just as much, maybe even more than, as a very famous person.
I, too, know of tragedy.
I was first elected to the United States Senate ten days before my thirtieth birthday. Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states, “No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age [sic.] of thirty years ….” I wasn’t thirty years old yet, but I would be when I was to be sworn in as a Senator. Life was looking pretty good for me.
I was married to Neilia who was four months younger than I, and we had three children: Beau (Joseph R. III), Hunter, and Naomi. I hadn’t been sworn in yet, but I was in Washington, D.C., hiring staff when I got a phone call on December 18, 1972. I was informed there was a car crash and that my wife and one-year-old daughter were killed. My sons were seriously injured, but at least they had survived.
Life went from euphoria to heartbreak. I could have let Neilia’s and Naomi’s deaths, and Beau’s and Hunter’s injuries, derail my plans to become a U.S. Senator, and one day a U.S. Vice-President. I could have “unhired” the people I had just hired to be on my staff. They would have understood. They would have been supportive.
I could have returned to Wilmington, Delaware, thanked all the people who had supported me in my campaign, and they, too, would have understood my decision. They would have even been supportive of me to “come home” and be with my sons. Yes, I could have let that tragedy, and it certainly was “a disastrous event,” be a controlling factor in my life.
But what would that have said about Neilia and Naomi? That their deaths were going to be an albatross around my neck? That I would give up on my dreams so I could mope in my own sorrow?
Not a chance!
Did I miss them? Did I shed loads of tears over them? Of course, I did. Who wouldn’t? But I was not going to let that moment be the definition of who I was and who I was going to be for my sons and to the citizens of Delaware who’d elected me to represent them in the United States Senate.
And so on January 5, 1973, now that I was thirty years old, I was sworn into office by Frank Valeo, the Secretary of the U.S. Senate. He accommodated me by having the ceremony in the Wilmington Medical Center where Beau was still in the hospital. Hunter had been released by then, but he, too, was in attendance as were other family members.
In Stuart’s vernacular, that was “Strike One,” but I was still at the plate. I was not Out.
Life moved forward, as it does for many widows and widowers following the loss of a spouse. A few years later I met Jill and we were married two days before Father’s Day in 1977. What a great Father’s Day present she was, and has continued to be for over forty years. We were blessed a few years later with daughter Ashley, re-completing the family circle with her brothers Beau and Hunter.
Serving as a United States Senator was a great honor that I will never forget nor downplay as insignificant. The trust that the people of Delaware placed in me to elect me for as long as they did is truly heartwarming. I might have stayed in the Senate had not Barack Obama ask me to be his Vice Presidential running mate in the 2008 election. And we won!
Life was moving to a new high as I became Vice-President of the United States under a dynamic young President
I’d had “Strike One” called on me over three decades earlier, but there I was. I was still at the plate, batting, swinging, not letting them call me Out.
My elder son Beau had gone to the same high school as I did. He graduated from the same law school as I did. He volunteered to serve in the Delaware Army National Guard where he was a member of JAG, the Judge Advocate General’s Corp. I was nervous, of course, as any parent would be when your son is in Iraq, in the middle of harm’s way. Fortunately, he was never involved in any dangerous conflict, and he returned home to resume his duties as the Attorney general for Delaware.
Beau began to have headaches and periods of weakness and disorientation. It turned out that he had a brain tumor, and despite the best efforts from the best medical personnel, Beau died on May 30, 2015. He was only 46 years old, and he left behind a wife, a daughter, and a son.
Now that’s heartbreak. And that was “Strike Two.”
Once again I could have let that tragedy be the thing that dominated my life, and that consumed my everyday thinking. But that would not have done any justice to Beau and his family, and it would not have been representative of my Christian faith that we all have a higher purpose here on Earth. I was not going to let the tragic loss of Beau’s physical life be the definition of who is father was and what his father still wanted to accomplish in his lifetime!
I’ve had two Strikes against me, and I’m not Out. I’m still at the plate.
I encourage you to read and absorb the stories that Stuart and others tell of their stories of their “three Strikes,” and how those strikes could have completely taken them “out of the game.” It’s not that they dismissed them as trivial—they were far from that. They instead chose to stand up and dare that pitcher to throw one more fast ball down the middle. Let them have just one more swing. Stuart and others have chosen to be the designers of their own destiny, and they and I both believe that you, too, can design your own future.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
47th Vice-President of the United States of America