Rayburn, like all the buildings on The Hill, is huge. Yet, despite the several hundred people working there from morning to night, the atmosphere, from the security check-point at the entrance, to the cafeteria and all along its well-lit corridors, is quiet and calm. Behind the heavy oak doors of each Representative’s office, dozens of staffers work the telephones, the computers, they meet people – quietly. The permanently switched on,
wall-mounted-televisions in the lawmakers’ front office, are muted.
In the elevator, on my way up, and walking around the whole perimeter of Rayburn looking for Congresswoman Nita Lowey’s office, I found that the soft buzz of activity sharpened my focus. I was on a mission, I was a peaceful warrior, but a warrior nonetheless and I was engaged in combat. With each quiet step forward in my flat shoes, the horror of Andrew’s death, his suicide, were the engine that drove me. What I wanted from the people in this building and the others I would visit afterwards was simple. I wanted them to feel what I felt, even if for a moment. I would give them a glimpse into my soul and I would walk away with nothing less than their 100% commitment. The rest, the photo opportunity, the handshake, the Congressional bottled water… they were nice choreography.
Here is the bag of goods – Federal Initiatives, we put forward:
Appropriations for the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act ( to combat the rising epidemic of Youth Suicide )
Military and Veterans Suicide Prevention
Reversal of White House Policy of Not Sending Condolence Letters to Families of Military Suicide Personnel
Appropriations for Research Funding at National Institutes of Health Agencies
National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) implemented by the CDC; Centers for Disease Control
Implementation of Mental Health Parity and Health Care Reform
Re-authorization of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Appropriations for Bridge Suicide Prevention Barriers
Legislation to Reduce Bullying and Cyber-Bullying
Authorization of Depression Centers of Excellence
My own bag of goods included Yoga and Meditation, and although not a Federal Initiative Item, in mind it was, it is, the most important item. Yoga and Meditation are what will make a difference in the long run, what will eliminate the need for all of the above stop-gaps. But in the meantime those stop-gaps are important and, they help raise awareness of the suicide epidemic.
I arrived at Nita Lowey’s office several minutes before our twelve o’clock appointment, and before Elizabeth.
While waiting I sat down and mentally went over my part of the presentation. I had chosen the re-instatement of The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, because it deals with Youth Suicide (my particular area of interest), and because the dead-line was the following day, March 10. Nita Lowey serves on the appropriations committee and her support is paramount.
The other item I would be talking about, was the White House policy of not sending condolence letters to the families of military personnel who died by suicide. This ancient, retrograde policy was a slap in the face of stricken military families. It sent the wrong signal about suicide, it implied that suicide is a crime rather than the result of illness, unmanageable stress, indescribable pain or all of the above,
and it had to be reversed, NOW! End of story!
Breathless from running all the way from The Capitol, Elizabeth walked into Nita Lowey’s office as the clock struck 12, and shortly after Congresswoman Lowey joined us.
“Esmeralda Williamson-Noble,” I said, extending my hand.
“I am so sorry for your loss,” she responded, taking my hand. Her tone, the way she looked, the fact that she knew which of the two of us was the suicide survivor, conveyed genuine sympathy as well as the fact that she was a formidable, polished politician.
Then it was Elizabeth’s turn.
After exchanging a few words, we asked if we could have a picture taken with her.
“Of course,” she smiled.
“My son was gorgeous,” I told her while posing for the picture. “He spoke Chinese, he was an East Asian Studies Major,” I continued while smiling for the camera. “He jumped from the 10th floor of Bobst, NYU’s Library, in November.”
Eyes narrowed, she looked at me.
“We need your support,” I said taking Andrew’s picture out of my purse and showing it to her, then to Kelly, her scheduler.
“You would have loved dating him,” I half joked. She blushed and laughed.
“Everything is in there,” I said, turning back to the Representative and pointing to the blue folder that Elizabeth handed to her legislative assistant. “We’ll explain everything to your assistant, but please know that tomorrow is the dead-line for getting on board with Representative Bart Gordon to support the re-instatement of the GLSMA.”
“I will look at it,” she said with a meaningful glance to her assistant. Then she left and we sat down in a back office with the Congresswoman’s assistant. Now Elizabeth did most of the talking, clearly and concisely going over each point, while I sat back, listened and nodded.
When we finished, a sweet, young intern whisked us underground to The Capitol, across the Statuary Hall, on through another hall that was the center of the city, back underground again where, having cleared security, we bumped onto the Virginia delegation coming off an oncoming train.
“How is it going?” I called out to them.
“Very well,” one of them smiled, giving the thumbs up. “And you?”
“Very well,” I said giving him the thumbs up before jumping onto our train.
All in all it took us under fifteen minutes to get to Senator Schumer’s office. Had we had to get there without help, walking from Rayburn to the Hart Senate Office Building, it would have taken us almost double that.
Tomorrow we’ll “visit” the offices of Sen. Schumer and Gillibrand. See you then.