Why I’ll Always Remember the 2012 Election.

Parenting Liam has taught me to be open and accepting to the strange and unusual ways in which this universe of ours works. Coincidences that fight through the random and the chaos of this world forever altering our futures. Some things do happen for a reason, and I’m learning that if I leave myself open to the possibilities of these moments — wonderful things can happen.

The seeds for my last post which was read by so many (5000 people? Thank you all so very much!! for reading, for sharing, for commenting, tweeting and emailing.) were sown in early September. With the Presidential politics just starting to ramp up the underlying anxiety and tension that I would carry for two months was only beginning. I was already getting worried that the prospects of an Obama loss could mean drastic things for the future of my family. Politics and this election was beginning to take on an entirely new meaning for me.

Longtime readers will remember that we spent most of the summer with Liam in the hospital again this year but back and forth from the hospital to home I started seeing those political yard signs for my high school history teacher Mr. Gregg Amore.  He was a candidate in the democratic primary for the State House of Representatives, and in my district no less! It had to be a sign.

Mr. Amore was one of those teachers. One of the good ones. Inspiring and engaged with his students. He was able to teach us so much more than what was in the textbook and his influence on my youth and how I would view this would end up being enormous. I wished that there would be some way that I could give him a hand to say thank you.

I was far too busy and occupied with Liam’s care at the time to help a campaign in any way but I made sure to mark the primary on my calendar and made sure that I would be available that say to vote.

I had never voted in a primary before that. Sure, I hold voting sacred and have yet to miss a major general election (and by major I don’t just mean presidential) but I had yet to take the time to have a say in which candidate would actually make it to my ballot. Call me irresponsible I guess. Anyway, Karin, Liam and I made a day of it and walked together to our polling place on a beautiful early September afternoon. Unsure of what kind of crowd may actually be in the polling location, Karin and I decided to take turns. One of us would stand outside in the sunshine with Liam while the other would go in and vote. Being only a primary, the line wouldn’t be too long.

I waited patiently as Karin did her duty and Liam and I watched the canvassers and sign-holders exactly 101 feet away from any polling machine including a small team with all decked out in garb for my guy Mr. Amore. They seemed excited and enthused and that made me happy as I made my own way in to vote after Karin had finished. I got the same satisfying feeling voting in a primary as I always have in a general. I proudly slapped an ‘I voted’ sticker on my shirt and after thanking the election volunteers for their time headed back to the street to walk home.

Now some things that the universe throws at you they just seem a little too … on the nose. Had this been written in a script it would be edited out for being too obvious but when I walked out of that polling place and saw Mr. Amore getting out of his car and walking towards his group of volunteers I couldn’t help but laugh. Just as I had left the building my phone went off with the message from Karin, who texted me [i think that guy you know is out here]. I hadn’t seen this man since 1995. What are the freaking odds of that?

I walked quickly so as not to miss him and introduced myself. We shook hands and he told me that he remembered me. I offered him good luck with the campaign and that he was why I made it out to vote that day. He thanked me and I scurried away assuming that his time was precious on an election day and Karin and I walked home. It was a fun day and we laughed about how strange it was that I would run into Mr. Amore when knowing him almost twenty years ago was the only reason I was there.

Moved by the coincidence I decided to write Mr. Amore a letter. I may not have any time or money to donate to his campaign but my house is right next to a very popular church in town, why not get myself some of those annoying political signs for my own yard? I didn’t exactly do multiple drafts or anything but I did try to put some real thought into that letter (which I’ll post below) about why I was so eager to help him and what politics, and one issue in particular, meant to me now.

The seeds of a longer piece were starting even then. The chunks of our story and the moment that politics in my life changed, the first ideas that would turn into that piece about Obamacare happened there in that letter and I was proud.

Mr. Amore responded the morning after I sent the email with a gracious and sincere thank you note and another assurance that he remembered me from when I was in his class. He explained that he was especially touched by my letter and I annoyed Karin all morning by reading and re-reading portions of his response aloud because I was so excited that a man I respected so much had such nice things to say about something I had written. Still early in September as it was, I could hardly wait to vote for him in November.

That wait came to an end yesterday when, along with taking my time and enjoying the moment when the marker connected the stem of the arrow next to the name Barack Obama, I  savored the time it took to vote for the man who taught me so much about this great nation of ours during two consecutive years of U.S. History class (first year pre-1865 and the second year post-1865 if memory serves). I thought back to how funny it was to run into him at the polls and hoped that he’d carry the day. He was someone I knew. Not enough to ask anything of but someone I could look up to and say ‘Hey, I know that guy’. To be able to do that with a State Representative would be pretty cool.

*****

Liam with his nurse this morning and me with the day off, Karin and I took advantage of the situation and escaped for a breakfast out this morning. Excited and jubilant by the release of tension, stress and anxiety by the President’s re-election we were in a great mood even if Karin was now getting all of the symptoms of the cold I’ve been battling for the past four or five days. We stole away from Riverside for a little breakfast/lunch place we like over the river in Providence.

We sat at our usual table and, with it being a weekday, there were only three other tables in the place. Two slightly older women in one front window, a young couple in the other, and two men at a two – top a table over from us and about 5 feet away. One was a bald gentlemen in a gray t-shirt and jeans and the other in a black fleece and baseball cap. Both were reading newspapers and mumbling just loud enough for Karin and I to hear that it was mostly about election results. The man in the gray faced towards me and sipped on his coffee until the other gentleman put down his paper and I could see who he was.

Gregg Freaking Amore. (He should use that on the signs for his next election)

How could that be possible? I mean sure it isn’t exactly me walking out of my polling place and seeing him but first after I vote for him in the primary and again now, just after finding out that he had overwhelmingly won his election with over 60% of the vote? This was already starting to mess with my mind a bit as I motioned to Karin and tried to quietly show her who was sitting so close by.

The four of us ate without acknowledging each other. I told Karin that I would say hi if he was about to leave or if we were about to leave first but I certainly didn’t want to bother the man deep in conversation the morning after winning his first election. So in the meantime we ate a delicious breakfast and made jokes about Karl Rove and Paul Ryan.

Both tables finished eating around the same time and when I saw Mr. Amore getting up I made my way over.

“Mr. Amore . . .”

“Now this is just too strange for this to happen today!” He said. I didn’t even have to remind him who I was. “first after the primary and now today? This really is very weird.”

“Mr. Amore this is my wife Karin” I said, introducing her as they shook hands.

“Congratulations on your win!” Karin said. After all the talk two months earlier I think she was really happy to meet him.  He thanked us both for our support.

“I’ve been meaning to email you.” He said. “That letter that you wrote me, I probably thought about it every day of this campaign. Stories like yours. I shared it with my family and some people I work with. . . ” He pointed to the gentlemen with him who nodded his agreement. ” . . .And I sent it up to Senator Reed.”

Senator Reed. Not State Senator. United States Senator Jack Reed. He was a member of the House of Representatives in 1995 when I met him at my Eagle Scout Court of Honor. When I saw pictures in the paper of Senator Reed endorsing Mr. Amore for his state congressional seat I was elated. I am a fan of Mr. Reed. To think that something that I had written had impressed Mr. Amore so much that he would send it to Mr. Reed completely blew my mind, but before I could even catch my breath to thank him Mr. Amore kept going.

“I just heard back the other day from an aide to Mr. Reed that I work with, and The Senator really liked it. He passed it up too because he said it was the kind of thing we are running for.” He paused. I’m not sure if it was for dramatic effect or because he knew I wouldn’t believe him. ” I get to tell you that the letter you wrote to me was handed to the President.”

My eyes almost instantly welled with tears as comprehension slammed into the consumption of the words. Something that I had written had been given to the President of the United States. I had to look away from him and turned to Karin unable to speak. She stared forward at Mr. Amore with a weird grin that I can only assume I was also wearing. A grin of disbelief. I looked back at Mr. Amore who looked me straight in the eye and said,

“The President read your letter.”

Something that I wrote, ideas from my head were put in front of the president. This President. This man who I revere so much.

I blurted out thank you’s and held back more tears of shock and of pride and of confusion. After assuring me that all of that actually happened, Mr. Amore thanked us and then he asked about Liam. He asked how he was doing, and he asked when he would get to meet him. Not wanting to hold him up at all, we agreed to email each other as soon as possible and said our good-bye’s. I sat back down at the table, collapsing back into my chair. Still trying hard to really appreciate what I had just been told. “Geeze – it was just an email”, I thought to myself. Just the beginning of an idea. Had I known any of this was going to happen, I would have spent a little more time on the thing!

We got into Liam’s van and Karin gave me a smile as we drove away. “Good thing we brought the van today! I’m not sure your ego would be able to fit into the Honda civic right now.”

And she was absolutely right.

Some things just happen for a reason.

Only 11 hours earlier the race for President had been called for President Barack Obama. In the reflected glow of that victory and all that it means for the stability and well-being of my family, what are the odds that I would run into Mr. Amore again. To hear this news, on this day, just felt too sweet to be random — Too weird to be real. What started as a simple letter of congratulations and encouragement brought on by a seemingly random coincidence of timing turned into something more in the act writing of it. In Mr. Amore’s reading of it, and in the old-fashioned-political-social-media of the Senator’s sharing it. Liam’s story matters. Our story matters, and in the hashing out of my ideas in that letter, my last post was born. A post that would go on to be read by 5000 people in the two days before the election. I don’t think for a second that it changed anybody’s mind about who to vote for. I do however think that it may have informed some people of what life with a special needs child or other chronic illness can be like, and that’s a good enough reason for me.

It’s been a really strange week.

*****

Mr. Amore

I was glad that I ran into you as I left my polling place yesterday. You are actually the reason that I even voted in the primary (though I never miss a general election day). I only wish that I had introduced you to my wife and son but I didn’t want to take up too much of your time on election day.
My name is Eric Olson (EPHS Class of 95) and I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you don’t remember me at all, as I recollect high school, I wasn’t a very memorable kid, but being in your classes had a large impact on the person I have become and the political issues and views that are important to me. Based on your writings in the Post and the views laid out on your website I know that we do see eye to eye on practically everything but what you taught us in that high school class had nothing to do with being a liberal or a conservative, a republican or a democrat. You taught us through history what it means to be a citizen. Short of my parents and earning my Eagle Scout Award, you had the biggest impact on the way I look at and think about my country, its history and its future.
Besides, who else was going to teach a 16-year-old East Providence kid about Alison Kraus and Union Station or Del McCoury on Friday afternoons. {A bit of explanation. couple times a month Mr. Amore would take the last 15 minutes of class on a friday and play music that he liked and wanted to introduce his classes to.}
You wrote letters of recommendation for me for both college and my Eagle Scout Award. You encouraged me to participate in Close-Up which ended up being a watershed moment in how I viewed this country of ours. The fact that I could thank you and perform my civic duty by voting for you in an election was a fulfilling experience. I just wanted you to know that.
I have lived up and down the east coast working in restaurants and kitchens of all types but when my wife and I decided to start a family it was important to me to move back home. To this city that I love. My son Liam was born in December of 2008 and four months later (and with him still in the NICU at Women & Infants hospital) we moved into our home beside St. Brendan’s church in Riverside only a few blocks from where I grew up. In the close to 4 years since, I have had the politics of the land take on such an importance in my day-to-day life, as well as my future. My son was born weighing only 1lb 11oz. with a very rare disorder called Miller Dieker Syndrome. He will not walk or talk and lives with a severe global developmental delay and also a severe seizure disorder. Nearly a third of his life has been spent in a hospital room including a 35 day stay in the intensive care unit at Hasbro that ended only two weeks ago.  When Liam was about 120 days old we were approached by our hospital social worker and it was explained that due to the Lifetime Cap of Benefits written into the healthcare plan that I pay a significant amount of my paycheck into, Liam was about to run out of benefits. A lifetime of benefits. I don’t think I have to explain the rest of the terms like pre-existing conditions. These were the days when the Affordable Care Act was a wacky idea that would never get enough votes to pass. The social worker explained that we could apply for some programs that were need-based on medical severity but if denied we would need to “spend down our assets” in order to bring ourselves under the poverty line to qualify for social security benefits to try to cover what Medicaid would pick up. In an instant politics became more than something we argue about at Thanksgiving. In an instant the decisions made by politicians in the state and federal governments had real and significant impact into not only the care that my son deserved but in the financial health of my family for the rest of my life. My sons medical costs have run into the millions of dollars and will continue to. How was I supposed to pay for that making $38,000 a year?
The Affordable Care Act was passed about half a year later. My son’s severe medical needs qualified him for a program called Katie Becket which supplements the insurance benefits restored by my insurance company once the Law was put in place. The year after next if I should choose to leave my job for another one I won’t have to worry about my son’s pre-existing condition in order to do it. Things have worked out for us. I often think about the family whose child is almost as sick as Liam but not sick enough to qualify for Katie Becket? What about the family who didn’t have any insurance to begin with? What if Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that otherdecision? When politics can have such a drastic effect on the actual life and death decisions of a family whose only crime was to give birth to a sick child, or suffer from an accident, it changes from water cooler talk to real world consequences.
I tell you all of this to give you my perspective. I have always had strong opinions on pretty much all political topics. I’m an opinionated guy and proud to be a liberal democrat like my grandfather and father before me, but until I had Liam I was bitter enough to subscribe to the idea that no matter which suits were in power in Providence or Washington my own life would plod along pretty much the same. Maybe a little more money here a little less there but the day-to-day stuff stayed the same. I can no longer believe that. That thought wouldn’t play as I lie awake at night stressing over a supreme court decision. It won’t play when I converse with co-workers when they complain about that Muslim-communist who took away our freedom to decide whether or not we want healthcare. And if I can no longer believe that the politicians we elect don’t really matter in my day-to-day life then the only thing left to do is to be more involved in what matters that I can.
So you can only imagine my excitement when I saw my first Gregg Amore for State Rep sign. I would have contacted you to help with the primary had Liam not been in the hospital for much of the summer. I don’t have much free time, and I wish I could give you some money, but what I do have is a big front lawn that a couple hundred catholics drive by every weekend on their way to and from mass. This whole thing is just a really long letter to say that I’d put some signs up here. It isn’t on a main street like Willet Ave or Pawt. Ave but I’d be happy to post some Gregg Amore for RI State Representative signs out front for you for the general election. Just let me know where to pick them up.
I hope I haven’t taken up too much of your time Mr. Amore. Good luck with the campaign. Like I said it was nice running into you yesterday and the next time it happens you’ll have to meet Karin, my wife and Liam my son. I do keep a blog of my own about parenting a child with special needs called PressureSupport.com if you would like to read more of our story. I’m glad I got to write this letter and thank you for everything you did almost twenty years ago. It’s what made me so proud to be able to vote for you yesterday.
Eric W. Olson

6 comments

  1. That is a true example of the POWER of an email. We all contemplate writing those long thought out letters, but life seems to get in the way of us actually doing it. When you sit down and send off that quick email what you actually have done is express your thoughts in REAL TIME. Responding to the subject matter at hand. I am glad that it all worked out in your favor. It is nice to know that our newly elected official is an honorable man. Congratulations!

  2. This is awesome and amazing on so many different levels. I agree with Sherry, read this one with tears (as I do many of your posts). Lol, I couldn’t help getting excited knowing the President definitely knows what Miller Dieker Syndrome is now (99% of my son’s doctors respond with “I’ll have to look that one up.”) Really really incredible though!

  3. Amazing how fate manifests itself…God bless the Olson family…the Dreschers pray for Liam all the time and for his parents that they have the strength to endure…it is said that God never gives us more than He know we can handle and I’m not sure about this one other than the fact that you three are handling it and God is working in your favor, also…Blessings to you for your courage and abiding love of Liam…every second that he exists in your lives and the lives of his family and supporters is a testimony to the love which God bestows on us…May God always hold you in his Mercy!!!

  4. Eric, I am Gregg’s mother, he told me your story on primary day & sent me your email, He also told me about meeting you & your wife after the election, he couldn’t beleive his good fortune see you again, thank you for your kind words. Gregg is lucky to have you in his life. Best to you, your wife and Liam.

  5. Eric:

    My name is Jennifer Amore Voll, I am Gregg’s sister. Gregg shared with me your story and your email. It moved me in so many ways. The respect you had and still have for a public school teacher is shared by many, but spoken by few. The love and dedication that you and your wife have for Liam is truly inspirational. I’m sure Gregg would agree that it was our parent’s very liberal insight on life that lead him into public office and shaped our view on many social issues.
    I also stayed up late on election night hoping that President Obama remained in office. I have two children for which I hope can continue to grow up in a more tolerant and giving society lead by its elected officials.
    Thanks you for sharing all of this with so many.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s