“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” – Rumi
In a room buzzing with anticipation, former second lady Jill Biden appeared before a crowd of 600 at A Page From the Book Festival event at the Marcus JCC May 15. The crowd was equal parts interested in hearing about her journey and in supporting, by proxy, her husband’s bid for the White House as frontrunner in the largest field of Democratic presidential primary candidates in our nation’s history. Ticketholders were treated to a window to her personality as well as a better understanding of her life with the Biden family and “their” decision to run.
The evening was moderated by Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, dean and sixth president of Morehouse School of Medicine, who delighted all with her insightful thoughts and purposeful questions.
In a bright yellow dress, Dr. Biden explained how she met Joe Biden on a blind date arranged by his brother, saying she was then a 23-year-old college senior accustomed to guys in cutoffs and bell bottoms, and he was a senator who arrived for their first date in a suit. “I had no idea what a senator did,” she said, but the couple saw each other every night after that.
Joe’s decision to propose was cemented one day when his sons, Beau and Hunter, interrupted his morning shave, saying, “Daddy, we think we should marry Jill.” Very cautious in the aftermath of her early divorce and his loss of his wife and infant daughter in a tragic accident in 1972, Jill finally agreed to marry him on his insistent fifth ask.
She spoke of “marrying Joe and the boys,” and of the “stop and go” in their lives, times when she decided to take a hiatus from her career to be home “when the family needed us.” That included the adjustment period when they first married in 1977, and when she gave birth to their daughter, Ashley, in 1981. She went back to work as an English professor at a Northern Virginia community college one week after the inauguration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in January of 2009.
Upon her return to campus, she warned her new secret service detail to dress down, “you know, with backpacks that really didn’t have books in them.” She spoke of her love of being an educator and of her hopes to decrease or even eliminate tuition at community colleges. Of “this next journey,” she said, to big applause, “if things happen as I hope they happen, education is going to be a top priority.”
Although not a political event, Biden provided just enough detail about the “political adventure I never expected,” even after her husband, Senator Biden, had assured her, “Jill, your life will never change.” “Well, I don’t want to spoil the book for you,” she said, “but he was wrong.”
Amid the challenges of weaving together their blended family, enduring a very public life and persevering through the searing loss of Beau to brain cancer in 2015, the common denominator in their now 42-year marriage is love, she said. “We lean on one another. That’s how we heal.” Speaking of the friends and family that get you through, she said, “We are not alone. During the darkest times, that’s where the light enters.”