First Runner-Up

Miguel AlmaguerLast week my “Open Letter to Kari Bales” somehow became the news. I was very aware that Kari Bales was the queen and I was merely standing in as her first runner-up in her absence. But I was happy to do that, and honored to bring military spouses and their silent sacrifice into the momentary spotlight.

However, that honor and excitement turned to worry and dread when Miguel Almaguer and the NBC news crew came into my house for the interview. As the cameraman was making some adjustments I sat watching the crew erect foreign-looking paraphernalia in my kitchen. The lights flipped on and I was suddenly overcome by the enormous weight and responsibility of the words I was about to speak. It’s one thing to dump my soul into a computer processor; it’s another thing entirely to force the words to out of my brain into the lens of a camera, all while looking at a hunky reporter I’ve only watched in sixty-inch high-definition.

The big fuzzy microphone hanging over my head felt like the day I drove away from the hospital with my newborn daughter strapped into her huge car seat, looking like a cashew bundled in green fluff. I couldn’t believe they actually trusted me. I looked up and wondered if they might konk me on the head with the mic if I answered incorrectly.

“Okay, now I’m nervous,” I told Miguel. “Don’t be,” he said. “It’s just like having a conversation. You’ll be great.”

But it didn’t feel like just a conversation. It felt like I was speaking on behalf of military spouses everywhere: all ten million bajillion of them. I may have been First Runner-Up to Kari Bales, but I was suddenly Miss Military Spouse USA. The cameraman fiddled with various items in the background and it gave me a moment to breathe. Just breathe, I told myself. But it still felt more like an asthma attack than breathing.

As Miguel made one last call, my breathing finally slowed and I concentrated on the fact that the cold air rushing into my lungs was coming back out warmer than it had entered. This was evidence that I was still alive. Then, it hit me: this story wasn’t about me. In fact, it wasn’t even about my letter. It was about the national response to my letter. YOUR response to my letter.

Suddenly the weight to perform blew away as I exhaled, and I was amongst all of you. And I was proud of you. I’ve never felt such pride before, not even peering up into the night sky under fireworks on the Fourth of July.  Not even standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier cruising effortlessly under the Golden Gate Bridge. Not even watching sailors stop, one by one, to salute the flag before running down the gangplank to hug and squeeze their children, some of whom they were meeting for the very first time.

And then that pride, that warm air … it made me smile. YOU made me smile. At that moment the producer said, “Lori, look over here!” and she unwittingly captured that moment by snapping this photo:

NBC Nightly News interview

So this is my thank you card to all of you. Think of it as my acceptance speech for being Kari Bales’ first runner-up. Because many of you have said thank you to me in your comments of support for Kari, but I hope what you realize is that by reading, forwarding, tweeting, and writing, you are the ones that made a difference in the life of a military spouse. You are the ones who shaped a national conversation. You are the ones who voted Kari Bales most likely to succeed.

To view the final result of that NBC Nightly News interview about you, my readers, go here:

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, “Silent Rank” by Miguel Almaguer ~ March 23, 2012

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you knew I would do something ridiculous. Well I’m not going to disappoint you by failing to self-report here as I always do. As Miguel laid his cell phone down on the table, I saw a picture of him under some spotlights looking somewhat like a ring-master taming a lion. Before I knew what was happening, I blurted out, “is that you – at the circus?”

Really? The circus? The circus, Lori? Uhhh. Hide your face. The CIRCUS!?

I smiled stupidly pretending not to notice how dumb I was. He chuckled, and I immediately recognized what appeared to be the White House in the background. The circus spotlights were actually floodlights on a big green lawn. The lion’s whip was a fat cord attached to a camera crew, trailing from his microphone. I cursed my lost glasses but kept smiling. He graciously answered, “No, but it’s a lot like a circus sometimes, I’ll give you that.”

Gah. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Circus. Jeesh.

This leads me to my conclusion, because no acceptance speech would be complete without a gratuitous thankyou to Carol Costello of CNN,  Miguel Almaguer of NBCJesse Ellison of Newsweek/The Daily Beast , and all of their editors and producers working behind the scenes for chosing to cover this issue and bring the positive and human side of this story into the forefront. On behalf of my readers – on behalf of military spouses – thank you so much.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled program …

CNN Video of “Open Letter to Kari Bales”

To go directly to my “Open Letter to Kari Bales” click here.

Late Sunday night I sat bleary-eyed at my computer trying to find a way to write what was on my heart. I knew I couldn’t write from the perspective of Kari Bales; there were too many unknowns. That story would be a work of fiction, and there was already enough fiction circulating. I breathed deeply, closed my eyes, and I imagined: papers, official visitors, tears, frantic calls … the administrative details alone seemed overwhelming. But once an image of Kari Bales’ children crossed my mind’s threshold, I began to cry. As a mother, I began to weep for that instant where she realized she was the one standing between them and this moment.

Many of you cried, too.

The words that made their way from my fingertips to the screen brought unexpected media coverage, and because of that my words eventually found their way into her heart. For that, I am so grateful. What every writer wants is for their words to make a difference.

Thanks to Carol Costello and the producers at CNN for chosing to highlight this issue so positively. Here’s the interview.

CNN Kari Bales

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