We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Have you ever entered a house where the residents weren’t home, and the only person to greet you was a uniformed security guard who ushers you in with a nod? You meander down the carpeted hallways and stop outside rooms you are forbidden to enter. You hear voices whispering in the background and you watch the other nighttime visitors sneaking a peek into the working life of the President of the United States of America.
I had never before been invited to tour the West Wing, so I quickly said “yes” when asked to meet up for a one hour tour of the Executive Office Building. Six of us passed through metal detectors and a background check to enter the West Wing, courtesy of a mutual friend who works for the Obama administration.
It was a warmer than usual evening in March, so we walked gingerly around the lawn to our destination. The West Wing of the White House, also known as the Executive Office Building, houses the offices of the President of the United States, the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, the Situation Room and the Roosevelt Room.
I admit I expected grandeur, but I settled for an ageless warmth. I anticipated a contemporary flair, but my attention was drawn to the classic tapestry so honorably bequeathed to us by our British forebearers.
“This is the Oval Office, right? Where the President’s works? There’s not one piece of paper on his desk. How is that possible? No computer. No pens or pencils.”
We laughed but our guide explained, “I only know that the wooden desk dates back to 1880 and is a gift from Britain’s Queen Victoria. Its construction is special because it was built with wood from the sunken Arctic Rescue Ship, the HMS Resolute.”
Impressive, I thought. But as I looked around the room, it looked more like a middle class American living room than the seat of the most powerful country in the world. The center of the room housed two cozy country couches facing each other, two striped winged chairs placed together for an intimate chat, and an unspectacular rectangular coffee table where Obama has been known to place his tired feet. Far from the gaudiness of Versailles, or the opulence of Buckingham Palace, these rooms spoke volumes about the people’s house.
I wished we had been able to stand inside the Oval Office in order to stare into the eyes of George Washington’s portrait that hung above the fireplace. I would have liked to ask him a few questions about the politics of policy then and now. Instead, we visitors stood behind velvet ropes and squinted from afar, trying to read the quotes that bordered the rug that Barack Obama had designed in an effort to magnify his message to the world:
“GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE”
— Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“NO PROBLEM OF HUMAN DESTINY IS BEYOND HUMAN BEINGS”
— John F. Kennedy.
“THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE IS LONG, BUT IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE”
— Martin Luther King
I left the West Wing inspired by the many Presidents who had lived and worked there to form a more perfect union. I stood outside the door to the West Wing and placed myself under the seal of the United States of America.
I looked up at the full moon and made my own wish for just that—a more perfect union.
Rabbi Tamara Miller
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