It was December of 1972, and I was in love. I was spending the holidays on the snowy banks of the Mississippi in the charming city of Dubuque, Iowa. Susie and I had spent the day Christmas shopping as the snowflakes fell softly on our faces, and our late afternoon errand was to buy a Christmas tree and carry it home. That evening we decorated it and dreamed together of the days and years to come.
That same day, another family was shopping and buying a tree. A young mother and her three children were traveling home when they were struck by a tractor trailer. The woman, named Neilia, and her one-year old daughter, Naomi, were killed instantly. The two boys, Beau and Hunter, were critically injured and rushed into surgery. The husband and father was in Washington, preparing to be sworn in as a United States Senator.
Joe Biden received the message and rushed to be with his sons in Delaware. He thought of resigning immediately but was persuaded by leaders in his Democratic Party that the nation would understand what he was enduring and would support him in every way. So he grieved the loss of his wife and daughter, sat by the bedsides of his sons, and slowly regained his footing.
I read the story of the tragic accident in the morning paper when Susie and I awoke to even heavier snow. We wept together and prayed for the Biden family. She and the Bidens shared a Catholic faith that promised the presence of Christ and the touch of Our Lady to a family suffering so greatly. I resolved to continue praying for this family and to follow the career of the young senator, who exhibited such courage and fortitude.
He went on to serve six terms in the Senate and then was chosen to become Vice-President to Barack Obama. His public service continued unabated, although other trials invaded his life along the way. In 1988 he came close to dying of a brain aneurysm, which required a six-hour operation to save his life. In 2015 he lost his son Beau to brain cancer, and Joe Biden will grieve this loss until his last breath.
Out in Iowa, Susie and I parted ways, but the imprint of our time together will be with me always, maybe even forever. I’m grateful we share those Christmas memories of almost half a century ago. And I’m also thankful for the life of that senator whose story broke our hearts back then.
I learned that this man’s compassion, humility, and wisdom grew out of the dark valleys he walked. I now understand how he could relate so gently and compassionately to average Americans who’ve been frightened and hurt.
I also recognized a great inner strength that emerged from his trials, and I marveled at his strong stands against injustice and oppression. I saw him travel the world to work with our longtime allies and to confront those whose ideologies were inimical to our nation’s values, beliefs, and policies.
Most of all, I saw Joe Biden as an authentic human being whose word can be trusted and whose faith and convictions represent those of the vast majority of American citizens. I was grateful last week to cast my ballot for this exemplary public servant.