Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Flashback to '94

It is raining in Washington this morning. A steady stream of rain was accompanied by strong gusts of wind when I first went outside just after 6:00 this morning. It was raining twelve years ago, too.

I remember well catching an early morning flight from Cleveland to Washington. I had spent the last week in Cleveland, volunteering time to campaign for my boss, U.S. Representative Eric Fingerhut. It had been a hard fight. We had worked long and hard. We were hopeful he would win. But when the ballots were counted, Eric, along with dozens of other Democratic Representatives and Senators, were defeated, transferring the balance of power to the Republican party for the first time in years, leaving some 2000 Democratic staffers unemployed.

When my flight arrived in Baltimore, I took the train to Union Station and slowly made my way towards the Cannon House Office Building. Capitol Hill was a rather quiet place. The Cannon building was even quieter. The Republicans were still out celebrating with Newt Gingrich while the Democrats were trying to collect themselves. People stopped by when they saw me entering the office to say a few simple words, "I am sorry your boss lost."

The ensuing weeks were busy and challenging. There were letters to write, White House tour tickets to send, and boxes to pack for the Congressman. And, there was resume paper to purchase and phone calls to make.

My friend, Sharon, who had been through it before said, "You'll get through it, Donna. You file for unemployment benefits, and you move on." Unemployment benefits? I was a twenty-one year old recent college graduate. I was not about to file for unemployment....or so I thought. The day came, however, when I arrived in one of the huge committee rooms in the Rayburn building to complete the paperwork. I was with people whose last names begin with "C" and "D," and I could not believe that the huge room was full of people -- unemployed people -- people whose jobs were about to come to an end as soon as the new year began.

In 1994, my entire identity was based upon the business card I used to hand out often -- the card with a beautiful, gold-embossed seal at the top and the title, "Scheduler to U.S. Representative Eric Fingerhut" below my name. It was an impressive card and a great position for someone right out of college. It bought me the respect of my college classmates and gave my mother bragging rights. It was the answer I provided to the most popular questions asked in Washington, "What do you do?" or "Who do you work for?"

But the identity was gone on one cold, November night.

I started to pound the pavement immediately, distributing one resume after the next, trying to meet as many people as possible. I interviewed with different offices on the Hill, in the White House, at different agencies within the Clinton Administration, and with different firms around town. Nothing happened, however. People were great. They affirmed my gifts. I even got to interview in the West Wing on one day and with a cabinet secretary on another day. Still, I kept coming up as the second choice, forcing me to keep returning a different card to the unemployment office each week, indicating how many job contacts I was making.

With extra time on my hands and little money to spend at the bars on Saturday nights, I also did something I had not done in a while -- I got out of bed on Sunday mornings and went to church. I went back to church, trusting that I could find a community that would embrace me whether I was employed or not. And, the community I found at church was just what I needed. They welcomed me. They embraced me. They listened to me. They prayed for me. And through them, I discovered an identity much larger than anything I had ever known before. In the days of my unemployment I discovered that my truest identity was not as a scheduler for a Congressman from Ohio but as a child of God -- made in God's image, beautiful to behold, precious in his eyes. And my faith in this God provided a foundation that could never be taken away from me.

While the pain of the moment stung like hell, I can now say that my unemployment was a gift. It was a gift that placed me on a path for which I offer thanks and praise. And still, I can imagine the pain filling the halls of the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn House Office Buildings on this day. I know the pain, the disappointment, and the anxiety that fills the hearts and minds of countless staffers whose bosses have lost their elections and whose futures are filled with so many unknowns.

One thing is known, however -- you are a beloved child of God, made in God's image, beautiful to behold. And, you're welcome in this community of faith whether you have a job or not. I would love to hear your story and be in prayer for you during this time.


Eric Fingerhut said...


My campaign staff (I am just leaving the Ohio Senate as a result of term limits) has some service that flags them when my name is mentioned in the blogosphere. I usually ignore them, but they sent me your blog with a note that said "i think you want to read this one!". I am so glad they did - not bc I am eager to reminisce about 1994, but because it is so wonderful to see what you are doing, and to know that my defeat in 1994 helped you find your calling. I read some of your other blogs - your congregation is truly lucky to have you.

1994 also was a turning point for me - I went home, met my wife Amy, and we now have two boys - Sam and Charlie.

I'll pray (in Hebrew) that God continues to bless you and your mission.


Donna Claycomb said...

Eric: It is so great to hear from you. You are thought of often. What a special treat you have given to me today by being in touch. I really hope our paths will cross again sometime in the near future. I would love to see you again and meet your family. God bless you!