When I left for Chicago to tour the different Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses around the city, my husband reminded me not to forget the camera.
I had longed to see those houses ever since we moved to Iowa City, only four hours away. But with two small children at home it was not so simple to just take off and go. Then a friend suggested that we could drive to Chicago for a couple of days, to see Lloyd Wright's work especially. We could stay with her good friend whom she wanted to visit. The latter was in town for the summer at a home of a third friend who had just moved into town.
I was delighted, and soon afterwards we found two days when my husband was able to take care of the girls. On the drive there my friend supplied several details about our host: he had just graduated from law school and worked for the community. I didn’t think to ask but, because of his modern Israeli name, I assumed that he was Israeli.
When we arrived to the house it was apparent that, in spite of his name, Barack --which in Hebrew means literally lightening and metaphorically swift or rapid-- was not an Israeli. You may have guessed by now that the young man, our host, whose last name I didn't know until years later, was Barack Obama.
Barack shook my hand politely and quite formally; it was gracious of him to invite us to stay at his home and I was thankful, but that was all. We stayed there for two days and didn't have even one personal exchange. I remember the distinct feeling that here was a busy young man who was focused and distant.
People who met President Clinton, especially in Israel where he is still immensely popular, report that even in the briefest of meeting he comes across as personable and warm. When he came to the funeral of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin he shook hundreds of hands. Many people said that somehow he made them feel special.
That was not the feeling I got from meeting young Barack, quite the contrary. Back in 1985 I was already thirty and he was only twenty four. At that age it was a huge difference, and our circumstances could not have been more different. He was just starting out his public/civil career and I was " just a mother" which meant that at that point I had no career at all.
I could not claim that, from our brief encounter, I sensed that Barack would go far. However, from my perspective a man who, on the one hand was generous, and on the other hand did not waste unnecessary time on socializing with his guests, was made of different, perhaps stronger material.
Apart from the civil handshake, I don’t have anything else to report, yet perhapse the absence of any personal moment could also reveal something about one's character.
As my husband suggested I did take the camera and shot some photos of Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, but none of Barack or the visit to his home. Till this day I remember in great details the different houses which I saw at that visit almost thirty years ago, they touched my heart; Barack didn’t.