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Six Years After Jeff’s Death, Goodbye To The Candidate Who Infused Him With Life

2 Nov

“Nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody, somewhere is willing to hope. Somebody is willing to stand up. Somebody who is willing to stand up when they are told, ‘No you can’t ‘, and instead they say, ‘Yes We Can’.”

     –Barack Obama, February 12, 2008

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When I saw the card in the mail, it seemed so right and natural that for a brief moment, I was back in 2008, and I instinctively put it aside to give to Jeff when I next saw him. But as had been the case in similar situations when I’d allowed myself to drift from the real world over these past six years, reality struck back quickly, reminding me once more that if I ever see Jeff again, it will be in a very different place.  And It will be too late to give him the card.

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Yet here it was, a voting card addressed to Jeff as if he was still here, because with an extremely consequential election on the horizon, how could he not be?  His booming voice from eight years ago, passionately explaining why Barack Obama needed to prevail over John McCain, still echoes throughout Middlebury’s campus, in many bars in Westchester County and Manhattan, and Lord knows, in every room of our home. Thankfully, I can hear him as clearly today as I did back then. Such was the passion with which he spoke and campaigned on Obama’s behalf. In 2012, I actually believed that Obama, without Jeff on earth to fight for him, would have no chance against Mitt Romney.

Despite Donald Trump’s deep concerns about dead people voting, there’s something very wrong about the fact that election officials don’t accept absentee ballots from Heaven, for if they did, Jeff would surely find a way to get it here. His unwavering support for Obama would clearly have extended to Hillary Clinton as the keeper of the President’s legacy. But irrespective of the fact that the Westchester Board of Elections still believes he’s here and continues to send him voting information cards, the harsh truth is that politics is yet another passion that Jeff left behind when he made his tragic choice.  The depth of his despair on November 9th, 2010 was so great that Barack Obama’s re-election two years in the future was the furthest thing from Jeff’s mind.

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Jeff was three weeks shy of 21 when the young candidate out of Chicago uttered the words quoted at the beginning of this post, but it was more than the pithy catch phrase at the end that had him captivated from the start. Jeff was on his way to graduating magna cum laude from Middlebury, and he placed a high value on intelligence, especially when it came to choosing a candidate to back as the leader of the free world.  Obama had it, and Jeff viewed him as a welcome contrast to the President of the prior eight years.

Whether Obama had what it took to actually govern effectively remained to be seen, but Jeff was willing to take a flyer on that. The man was intelligent, articulate , a respected Senator and a devoted family man, and if that wasn’t enough, Obama was passionate about hoops too. Done deal. Jeff resolved to dedicate the next nine months of his life to convincing every single person in his inner and outer circles that it was crucial that Barack Obama be elected President.  And when Jeff latched onto a cause, you knew it was going to be a wild ride. This email to me, which signified the beginning of his crusade, made that perfectly clear:

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As an admirer of McCain back then, I couldn’t resist taking every opportunity that summer, when the race appeared to be close, to send Jeff little barbs about how Obama was blowing his opportunity to beat a Republican Party in disarray. I sent him an article in which Republican strategist Ed Rollins was quoted as saying that Joe Biden was a terrible VP choice for the Dems and that Hillary should have been chosen instead. Jeff  blew that argument out of the water in his response to me, but he did acknowledge that the race was tight.

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When the polls showed that the contest remained close through early September, Jeff began to ruminate over what he considered to be the potentially dire implications of an Obama loss.

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However, just a week later, the tide began to turn Obama’s way, and by the time the calendar turned to October, I  conceded to Jeff that he could probably relax and start planning the election night parties at Middlebury.

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Starting a month before Election Day, Jeff and Elon Rubin, this blog’s creator, began the countdown to victory.

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And then, history was made on a night that contained little suspense. It was clear from early that evening that Obama was in control, and at exactly 11 pm Eastern time, when the polls closed in many western states, the first election in which Jeff cast a vote was called for the first African American President-elect. It took Jeff only three minutes to email me with his victory message.

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Of all all the emails and texts that I’ve shared over the past six years, this one brings to the fore the widest range of powerful emotions.  I feel in my bones Jeff’s sense of triumph and satisfaction that he had fought for a winning cause. I shed tears of happiness that the candidate and his message had so inspired him and sparked a fire within him that was on a par with his passion for the underdogs of March Madness. And staring at this email brings a longing for the closeness of our relationship that prompted him to email me just three minutes after the election had been called.

But the most overwhelming emotion of all is profound sadness. Neither of us knew in Jeff’s glorious moment that almost exactly two years later, with the euphoria of Obama’s victory long past, he would completely lose the spirit of “Yes We Can” and succumb to a hopeless feeling that was the antithesis of Obama’s vision for the nation. That dreadful feeling was also in direct contrast to the outlook that Jeff publicly expressed on Facebook in the days after the election, as he basked in the afterglow of victory.

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And isn’t that the greatest tragedy of all?  Jeff WAS in for a great eight years and beyond, not necessarily because of what the new President was going to do, but rather because Jeff had it all going for him.  He was armed with every attribute one could ever ask for to forge a successful future, but in the final analysis, he failed what I believe to be the true test of intelligence.

In John Holt’s book “How Children Fail”, he defined intelligence in a way that has always resonated with me. Holt wrote:

“By intelligence, we mean a style of life, a way of behaving in various situations, and particularly in new, strange, and perplexing situations.  The true test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.

The intelligent person, young or old, meeting a new situation or problem, opens himself up to it; he tries to take in with mind and senses everything about it;  he thinks about it, instead of about himself or what it might cause to happen to him;  he grapples with it boldly, imaginatively, resourcefully, and if not confidently, at least hopefully;  if he fails to master it, he looks without shame or fear at his mistakes and learns from them.  This is intelligence.”

Jeff wanted to celebrate intelligence, but when faced with the first real difficult situation of his life, namely not knowing what to do after abruptly walking out on his first full time job, he did the polar opposite of what Holt lists above. He didn’t grapple with it boldly or even hopefully. He thought about himself and what the situation might cause to happen to him. He felt shame and fear after his setback, and instead of learning from it, his distorted mind concluded that his future was bleak. And then he let the worst happen by succumbing.

How terribly unfair it is of me, though, to even suggest that Jeff’s end had anything remotely to do with not acting intelligently. He was a brilliant man who was the victim of a cataclysmic chemical reaction inside his body and mind to misprescribed medication that left him defenseless. I had just hoped that intelligence and inner strength would be enough to overwhelm the destructive power of the meds.  But Jeff just couldn’t find that reserve of strength that we all have inside us. He tried for two months. It is not for me to judge whether he could have tried even harder.

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The text messages arrive each day without fail, the level of excitement contained within them rising as Election Day nears. Some report the latest projected electoral vote count, while others share the egregious happenings on the campaign trail. He is certain now that his candidate will win, and after over a year of loudly and passionately articulating how crucial it is that this result come to pass, he is ready to celebrate.

His booming voice at the dinner table so dominates our animated conversations about the election that the familiarity of it all overwhelms me.  As I drifted again into my alternate reality on this particular night, I heard his heavy, thundering feet running down the stairs to tell me the latest breaking news. I prepared to tell Jeff to take it easy because while I love his passion, he was making the house shake again.

But I could only stare as the 6′ muscular figure in the Middlebury t-shirt emerged from the dark hallway into the family room pumping his fists in jubilation and bellowing  “Arizona is now a toss-up! It’s gonna be a landslide!”

Having regained my senses, I was clear again that it wasn’t 2008, and while they are built the same, talk the same and have the same passions, that was not Jeff standing before me.

It was Brett, wearing Jeff’s college t-shirt and shadow-boxing in front of the TV as he watched CNN’s John King excitedly talk about the electoral map.

 Just six months older than Jeff was in October 2008, Brett has matured into a young man who is strikingly similar to his oldest brother. His recently found passion for politics has taken us on a 15 month election campaign ride that’s been eerily and beautifully similar to the one Jeff took us on eight years ago. Brett’s commitment to his candidate and his opposition to her opponent is on a par with Jeff’s commitment to Obama, and the way they each expressed that support through emails, texts and verbal onslaughts is identical. As Brett said to me one night this past summer, “We’re basically the same person…except for…”

He left it there, knowing full well that no further explanation was needed.

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Drew, who had swung by to pick up some stuff before heading to his apartment, walked into the family room and observed his fist-flailing, fast-talking little brother rail against Donald Trump. Drew is a more low key Hillary supporter who is much less willing than Brett, Carey and I to overlook Hillary’s baggage, and he’s been disgusted by the venom in the campaign for a long time.  Nonetheless, his chill demeanor stands in sharp contrast to that of his vociferous brothers. He took one look at me and instantly knew what I was thinking. He broke into a broad smile, walked over and wrapped me in a hug. Without a word spoken, the hug shared our mutual thought:

Jeff lives.

Six years after making the horrific decision to end his life, Jeff still lives. He lives through the amazing memories he created for us all. He lives through our nation’s political process, through March Madness, through his love of the Knicks, Yankees, Giants, great food and great beer, and through his brilliant writing on his Talkin’ Sports blog and in his school newspapers.

And yes, he lives through his youngest brother, who has proudly taken on his bold and hilarious persona.

Lastly, Jeff will always live through our exiting President, who served as the catalyst for some of the most exciting times of his life. Barack Obama has served our country with exceptional dignity and grace over eight scandal-free years, he’s a great guy, and Jeff couldn’t have chosen a better role model to support with such high energy.

I’m sad to see Obama go, but I will always be deeply grateful to the man who infused my son with so much life just two years before his tragic and unnecessary death.

–Rich Klein

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Desperately Trying To Keep Jeff Alive On His 29th Birthday

2 Mar

 

Today is not a funeral.  It is a birthday, and we shall treat it as such.”

            –Tarzan Tahsin Ozan Gemikonakli, Facebook post, March 2, 2013

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 Jeff,

Each and every birthday, I try my best to heed Tarzan’s words. It’s extremely difficult, though, as your birthday connotes many different things, and unfortunately, the thoughts that dominate my mind are those related to what might have been. My research into suicide has been excruciatingly painful, because each piece of data that I’ve found confirms what I intuitively knew—that any number of factors could have quickly changed the outcome and tipped your fate from death to decades of life in the blink of an eye. A suicide barrier at the bridge, a traffic jam on the way there, Brett’s school bus getting home a little earlier, a call from me making plans for that night…the list goes on and on. And the knife twists.

And if any of those things had happened, the research clearly shows that the suicidal moment would have permanently passed. You’d be celebrating your 29th birthday with us and others today, and during this incredible time in our history, each of your passions would have found plenty of fertile ground for your unique means of expression.

You really came of age during the 2008 Presidential campaign, and the passion that Barack Obama elicited from you is something for which I will always be grateful to him. I can only imagine how engaged you’d have been in this year’s bizarre campaign season. I can actually hear your expressions of outrage over the utter lack of substance in a couple of the Republican candidates and the somewhat disturbing policy positions of others.

I can picture you debating Jason, the young kid you mentored at Middlebury who is now a junior in college, about his strong support for Bernie Sanders. You would have spared no effort in trying to bring him around to your view that Hillary is the best choice for our country at this critical moment. I know you would have started a separate politically-focused blog on which to spread your message that Obama’s agenda must be continued. Your booming voice and colorful writing take over my mind during quiet moments at work. Knowing exactly what you’d be saying and writing makes it easy to fantasize, but while your spoken and written words are tantalizingly close, they are a tease.

And your brothers… they were kids when you upped and left, and now they are men with whom you’d have had raucous political conversations to complement your sports banter. Brett, as Features Editor of the Villanovan, has become a leading columnist covering the political campaigns, and Drew is aligned with you in his support of Hillary. He believes that electing a woman after an African American would not only be incredibly historic but would also indicate that our country, despite its divisions, is still capable of great things.

This train of thought leads me to the unbelievable reality that you never even knew that your little brother ended up at Villanova. For someone who was so close to his brothers and so engaged in Drew’s college search, that is something that boggles my mind. Your brothers were there for you at your graduations, and you were there for Drew, but it’s egregious, quite frankly, that you won’t be there for Brett.

 

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And when you layer on top of that the fact that ‘Nova recently attained and temporarily held college basketball’s number one ranking for the first time in its history, your not being here to see it is really too much to bear. My God, you’d have been out of your mind with excitement over this amazing development in Brett’s senior year. Instead, the only Villanova memories you left behind were your angry Facebook posts about how egregious calls by the refs handed ‘Nova a first round victory against huge underdog Robert Morris during your last March Madness tournament in 2010. If you had only known that Brett would choose two years later to go to college there, all would have been instantly forgiven.

 

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The reality is that observing all these current events that are so tied to your past keeps you alive for me. And even now, staying connected to you and keeping you alive in any way possible is crucial to my maintaining a healthy state of mind. I actually fear that as the people about whom you had such strong feelings start to fade from the scene, you will somehow become less relevant in the world.

As long as Kobe, Obama, Lebron and Eli Manning are still impact players, then in my confused mind, so are you. But when Kobe retires in May, and Obama leaves office next January, I feel like you will be that much more removed from today’s world, and thus you’ll be even more dead than you already are.

 

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At least March Madness is forever, so your passion will always live through the tournament. And this year’s tournament, in which so many teams have a real shot to win it all, would have taken your excitement to new heights.

Some might call it masochistic, but when I still periodically receive emails that are addressed to you, I can’t bring myself to hit the delete key. I also have to confess that I keep much of the snail mail addressed to you too. I just can’t trash it. I don’t know, man, I guess I just feel that if advertisers still think you’re alive, then maybe in some metaphysical way, you are. It’s all about keeping you alive.

 

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The most difficult conversation that Mom and I are having now is about her strong feeling that after five years, it’s time to start taking things down from the walls in your room.  Although I totally understand where she’s coming from, when she said it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I felt the onset of full blown panic. And as you know, I’m the most stable, least anxious guy around.

To me, beginning the process of dismantling your room would be complete capitulation, an acknowledgement that you truly are gone forever and there is really no reason for you to still have your own room. It’s too painful for Mom to see the memories, yet for me, when I walk in your room and see Obama’s “Yes We Can” poster and your bulletin boards with all your sports tickets and memories, you literally come alive again for me. When my back is sore and I sit in the massage chair in the corner of your room and look around, it feels like you’re there. Your life surrounds me, and I like how it feels.

 

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The bottom line is that Mom and I are 30+ year soul mates, and no matter what we disagree about, we always agree on the crucial importance of compromise. And so we will do this gradually in a way that works for her and eases me into it. First, we’ll take down some of the less personal items, like the framed sports photos. And then sometime later in the year, we’ll take down Obama, the Middlebury pennant, and the bulletin boards. That day will be the second most devastating day of my life.

Through relentless searching, though, I continue to find precious memories that I thought had long ago been lost or discarded. These “finds” energize me, and the memories bring you temporarily back to life. The most incredible recent discovery was a postcard, of all things, that you sent us during the summer of 2003 when you went on that Wilderness Ventures teen tour out west. It captures exactly who you were:

“Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s the day after I left the message at home, and we’re getting our laundry done. We just showered too. Wow! It’s tough out here—the conditions are brutal sometimes. I’ll tell you ALL about it when I get home, but I just want to let you know that the kids are GREAT and I cannot tell you enough how much I’m looking forward to East Hampton.

Love,
Jeff”

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Like a digital camera that takes high resolution photos, this postcard is similarly a high definition snapshot of you. There you were, out in the elements, toughing out the hot and dry conditions, but loving the experience. And of course you thought the kids were GREAT. Was there anyone you didn’t like or get along with? I admire your gift of expression—in just a few sentences, you gave us a vivid picture of exactly how you were doing and what it was like. And in the midst of all that, you had one eye looking forward to a family tradition—a summer-end vacation for the five of us. I always thought you had perfect balance in your life between enjoying great times with friends and separately with family. I just don’t know whatever became of your ability and willingness to battle through tough conditions.

I guess it’s pretty ironic that over five years after your death, on your 29th birthday today, I’m still fighting a war for your life. It’s a fight to keep you relevant and to keep the memories fresh and vibrant. You were so worried about advancing through your 20’s and assuming the responsibilities that these years would bring. It’s so sad, because Drew would be the first to tell you that the 20’s are pretty damn good, and Brett’s early read would confirm that.

Kobe and Barack may be on their way out, but we’ve still got Eli and Lebron, and your man Bill Simmons is coming back with a brand new website and HBO sports talk show.

 

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With those guys still making headlines, I feel like you remain alive in a spiritual way, and given the reality of the situation, that’s the best I can ask for.

Today is certainly not a funeral. We each get only one of those, and tragically, you’ve prematurely had yours. But birthdays keep coming, and that is what today is.  It is the birthday of  our firstborn son who filled us with such pride and joy for 23 1/2 years. I promise you, I’m fighting like hell to treat it as such.

Happy 29th birthday, Jeff. I love you with all my heart.

Love,
Dad

A Champion Of Minorities And Enemy Of Racism, Jeff Would Have Been A Loud Voice In Today’s Warped World

26 Jul

“Well, you know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people, and I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”

–Tim Hardaway, Sr., on Dan Le Batard’s radio show, WAXY-AM Miami, February 14, 2007

 

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Within the span of a few weeks this spring, a former Ku Klux Klan leader driving through Overland Park, Kansas decided to dedicate a Sunday to shooting Jews and then indiscriminately shot three Christians to death, Donald Sterling told his girlfriend he didn’t want her to bring African Americans to the Clippers’ basketball games, and scores of people became outraged when football player Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend in front of a national television audience after being drafted by the Rams. Jeff would have been disgusted with the fact that such things are still happening in 2014, and I have no doubt that he would have taken the opportunity that these events presented to become a loud voice against racism and homophobia, as well as a champion of minorities everywhere.

I first witnessed Jeff’s abhorrence of racism when he chose his senior history thesis topic in the Fall of 2008 at Middlebury. It didn’t take him long to decide that he wanted to write about the 1960s Civil Rights movement with a specific focus on Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach of non-violent resistance. I am a student of 1960s history myself, and I have amassed a large collection of films and DVDs containing old news broadcasts from that time, many of which covered King’s movement. Once I knew what Jeff was considering, I offered to let him utilize my collection if he thought it could be helpful to him, and he readily accepted that offer:

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It was not a coincidence that Jeff chose to write his thesis on civil rights at a time when Barack Obama was poised to become our nation’s first African American President. There were many reasons why Jeff was a huge Obama supporter, not the least of which was the fact that he loathed George W. Bush and was embarrassed that our country elected him twice. As much as anything, though, Jeff was excited because he felt that an Obama victory would signal that the United States had turned a corner in terms of racial equality, especially since the election of an African American President would have been unthinkable even a decade earlier.

I found it interesting that Jeff chose Election Day in 2008 to send me the document he called “About Me”, a one page personal statement that I posted here on April 13th, 2013 (https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/about-me-by-jeffrey-klein/). Not surprisingly, Jeff opened this statement by writing about his senior thesis topic:

I am currently a senior at Middlebury College with a major in history and minor in economics. I am in the process of writing a 50-page thesis on the civil rights movement. That period is the period in American history that fascinates me the most, as it exemplifies a time where courageous African Americans withstood threats and intimidation in order to form a unified movement to ensure their equality under the law and in American society. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the person I admire most within the movement, as he was steadfast in his insistence on nonviolent protest, even as white Americans consistently brutalized and physically beat members of the African-American community.”

Jeff was appalled, though, that even months after Obama’s victory, blatant acts of racism continued to occur in this country, and many were targeted toward the new President. On July 30th, 2009, Jeff sent the following email containing the latest disgraceful example and made it clear how he felt about it:

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He wanted Palin to win the 2012 nomination, of course, because he felt that she was a weak candidate who would maximize Obama’s chances of scoring another blowout election victory. In July of 2009, Jeff clearly expected to be here in 2012 for Obama’s re-election campaign.

Jeff was also a strong advocate for women’s issues and was extremely proud of Carey’s work on the Board of Directors of Hope’s Door, an organization that seeks to end all forms of domestic violence.

Given Jeff’s love for sports, it is not surprising that his support for women extended all the way into the sports world. I was surprised and proud when in May 2010, Jeff told me that he wanted to write a blog post on his Talkin’ Sports blog in support of the WNBA, the women’s basketball league whose popularity paled in comparison to that of the NBA. Jeff was apprehensive to write on a league about which he knew relatively little. However, he was inspired by the excitement that WNBA games could generate despite playing in the shadows of their male counterparts. And he was apparently also inspired by a woman named Elissa, to whom he dedicated the post.

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When I saw how Jeff opened this post, it was immediately clear to me that his support of the WNBA was consistent with and inextricably tied to his worldview and overarching support of what he always called “the little guy”. Jeff began his post by writing:

Many people probably think of the WNBA as the NBA’s unpopular kid sister.”

He spent the rest of the opening paragraph enumerating all the ways in which the WNBA got the short end of the stick as compared to the NBA—fewer teams, a shorter season, fewer playoff games and the unfairness of having to play during the summer when, according to Jeff, “most people are out at the ballpark taking in a baseball game or on the beach getting their tans.” He then strongly defended the women’s game by writing:

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This paragraph was so Jeff. He was a man of the people, a champion of minorities and underdogs. He despised unfairness and inequity. Reading this reminded me of what he once wrote in his J.K. Rolling column in The Middlebury Campus in 2007, and although that was a sports column about March Madness, his words typified his general worldview:

“Rooting for the underdogs is a lot more fun than rooting for the favorites. It’s the whole idea of the little guy rising to the occasion and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to emerge victorious.”

This is partially why Jeff so admired Martin Luther King. The theme song of King’s movement was “We Shall Overcome”, which totally resonated with Jeff given his desire to see people overcome insurmountable odds.

In his last speech on the day before he died, in Memphis on April 3rd, 1968, King said:

Like anybody, I’d like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

The very next day, King was killed by an assassin’s bullet.

King’s point is obviously that what you do in the time you have is more important than how long you live, notwithstanding most people’s desire to maximize their lifespan. And though I am certainly not saying that Jeff did God’s will in his 23 ½ years on earth, I am saying that he made an impact. He did that with his kindness toward everyone he ever met, his passion for the things he considered important, and his willingness to stand up for what he believed in. He voiced his opinions strongly and coherently and was willing to debate anyone at any time.

On March 8th, 1965, King gave a speech in Selma, Alabama, and his words that night get to the crux of what this post is all about. The civil rights leader who Jeff admired the most, a man who like Jeff, would die a premature death, said:

“And if a man happens to be 36 years old, as I happen to be.  Some great truth stands before the door of his life—some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right and that which is just.  And he refuses to stand up because he wants to live a little longer and he’s afraid his home will get bombed, and he’s afraid that he will lose his job, and he’s afraid that he will get shot and beat down by state troopers.  He may go on and live until he’s 80.

He’s just as dead at 36 as he would be at 80, and the cessation of breathing in his life is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. He died… A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

Jeff never once refused to take a stand for that which he believed was true, and thus, as King so poignantly said, his spirit never died. And though many of Jeff’s causes were trivial compared to those of Dr. King, the fact remains that he spoke up and took a stand whenever he witnessed an injustice, whether it occurred in sports, politics, or in society at large. By that measure, Jeff lived just as long as many people who are in their 80’s. I take a great deal of comfort from this, and I am inspired by it.

Jeff was born to write, and with 20/20 hindsight, it is easy to see that all the misguided flirtations with possibly applying to law school were a waste of his time and energy. Had he pursued journalism as a career, I believe his unequaled passion and natural talent would have separated him from the pack, and he would have been a loud voice in today’s turbulent world.  I’ve never seen anything quite like Jeff’s strength of spirit, and when he latched onto a cause, it was difficult to not jump on the bandwagon with him. The world suffers for not having him a part of it anymore. He could have done so much.

Jeff vigorously argued his belief that NBA playoff games were rigged by referees in favor of the league’s favored teams, he called for the adoption of instant replay in baseball years before it happened in 2014, he railed against Bud Selig’s refusal to overturn the call that robbed Andres Galarraga of a perfect game in 2010, he defended the nascent women’s basketball league as being capable of generating the same level of excitement as the NBA does, he wrote about civil rights because he was appalled by the way African Americans have been treated in our country, and he dedicated the majority of his time and passion in the fall of 2008 to ensuring that every single person he knew understood how crucial it was for Barack Obama to be elected President.

He wrote passionately about these things in his high school and college newspapers and in the blog he created afterward, and he enthusiastically debated them at parties, bars, family gatherings and any other forum he could find. Whether you agreed with Jeff or not, he was an articulate and compelling force who could not be ignored. And that is why, if he had fought through his issues and stayed with us, I have absolutely no doubt that he would have found a way to be a leading voice in our nation, advocating for a multitude of worthy causes and railing against injustice. He would have been one of Donald Sterling’s greatest nightmares.

When Jeff died, my spirit died along with him. It appeared as if I would end up as the kind of person King spoke about—someone whose spirit died well before his breathing ceased. But the death of my spirit was temporary. Surrounded by love from a special wife and two precious boys, and inspired by memories of the passion with which Jeff lived, my spirit slowly but steadily came back to life.

How could it not?

I have watched Carey’s efforts toward the prevention of domestic violence, as well as her outstanding work as an EMT. I have watched Drew passionately pursue his love of coaching as he works with children in helping develop their basketball skills. And he is now pursuing his personal training certification so he can work with and motivate those who are committed to becoming fit. I have watched Brett create his own sports blog and pursue his passion for writing and a potential career in the media industry. And I think about Jeff and everything discussed in this post.

And so with my family as inspiration, my spirit is alive, and I will work hard to advance the causes of suicide awareness and prevention, and I will continue to devote myself to mentoring and motivating as many young people as possible to pursue their dreams without creating artificial deadlines. And I intend to aggressively work to convince the New York Bridge Authority to build safety nets at the Bear Mountain Bridge. Finding avenues through which to pursue these issues more broadly, and to do so with a passion that would make Jeff proud, would be another way for me to honor the legacy of the young man who was such an impact player during his short yet inspiring life.

–Rich Klein

A Political Fervor That Spawned Facebook Classics (And would Jeff still think Obama’s got the right stuff?)

23 Oct

“Man I like Obama but I hate his sports picks.  Biggest frontrunner ever.”

-Jeff Klein, text message to Dad, June 3, 2009

 

Four years ago, raucous celebrations broke out on college campuses across the country upon the official announcement that Barack Obama had been elected President.  At Middlebury, it was no surprise to anyone that Jeff was right in the thick of the action.  I am so thankful that one of Jeff’s friends took photos at the party he attended and thus captured the joy of that historic night and the early hours of the following day.

There is no question that the 2008 campaign was a turning point for Jeff in that he developed a heightened interest in politics and social issues which continued throughout the last two years of his life.  Evidence of this lies in the fact that before the summer of 2008, the vast majority of the emails and texts that I received from Jeff revolved around sports.  Once the campaign began, however, and until his final days, I would estimate that I received just as many emails and texts from him about politics and social issues as I did about sports.  As an example, I enjoyed the following email that Jeff sent to me just three months after the election, at 1:50am on February 12th, 2009:

 “Tonight I went to hear Al Sharpton speak at Mead Chapel.  He gave an excellent speech—he was very eloquent and made some great points.  He exuded a much different persona than the one that is normally attached to him.”

That simple email says so much about the type of person Jeff was.  He always formed his own views on people and issues.  He never pre-judged anyone, and he ignored generalizations and stereotypes.  He formed a view on Sharpton based on what he heard in his speech, not based on the reputation that preceded him into Mead Chapel that night.

The 2008 election took Jeff’s passion for politics to such a high level that it spawned incidents that have gone down in Facebook lore as instant hall of fame classics.  I can’t resist sharing the two best examples, and those who are Facebook friends with Jeff will likely remember these memorable posts.

On November 29th, 2008, just 3 ½ weeks after the election, Jeff’s Facebook status read that Jeff Klein is “sorry for the mass drunk political text last night!  Happens sometimes.”

When two of Jeff’s friends responded that they had not received the text, Jeff posted, “Haha well maybe it wasn’t mass then.  all i know is i woke up this morning and got like 5 texts from people in some form of either “yay obama!” or “boo obama!” or “i love how you talk politics at 3 in the morning.”  good times.”

Jeff’s status and his follow-up post were vintage Jeff, but in my view, the best part of it all was a response he received from someone who DID receive the text.  It was from one of his KDR brothers, DeHanza Merritt who, as a testament to the sheer uniqueness of Jeff’s post, wrote with exasperation:

“yeahhhhh jeff.  wtf.  you are quite possibly the only person I’ve ever met that does drunk political texts.  for serious.”

I’m sure he WAS one of the only people who sent drunken political texts, because Jeff’s uniqueness and genuine nature are large parts of what defined him.  He frequently did things that no one else would do, because there really is no one else quite like him. And in my opinion, that’s what made him so irresistible.

The next example might lead one to conclude that by April 25th, 2010, Jeff’s interest in talking politics had gone a bit too far and had begun to get in the way of, shall we say, more interesting pursuits. On that day, he posted a status that has to go down as one of the most classic ones in the history of social networking sites.  I recently discovered this on Jeff’s relatively new Facebook timeline.  He wrote the following:

“went to UNC Chapel Hill for the [first] time last night. Met a gorgeous blonde girl at the bar and somehow thought it would be a good idea to start talking politics with her. She thought George Bush was a great president and I was trying to tell her differently…instead of asking what her plans were for the rest of the night. Why am I such a retard?”

The humorous anecdotes above are simply meant to illustrate Jeff’s growing interest in the political arena as he got older, and they lay the groundwork for the more serious question at hand, which is whether President Obama would still have had Jeff’s vote in 2012. 

Surprisingly, the answer to this question is not a no-brainer and is complicated by the fact that despite Jeff’s unequivocal support of Obama in 2008, he was not just some left wing ideologue who blindly waved the Democratic flag regardless of the country’s situation.  In fact, it seemed that Jeff had an epiphany in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day in 2009, just weeks before Obama’s inauguration.  After partying that New Year’s eve in the NYU area, it became clear to him, based on his interactions that night, that he had no tolerance for extreme views on either side of the political spectrum.  Jeff’s first text message to me of the New Year made that abundantly clear:

“I’m no longer a liberal.  I’m a moderate.  These stupid quirky liberal intellectuals at NYU disgust me almost, if not as much, as social conservative Palin supporters.”

Though his words were a bit crude after a long New Year’s celebration, the message behind them was clear.  Jeff was extremely analytical, and he had always believed that a close examination of issues and the facts surrounding them was essential to forming a view.  He abhorred the partisan politics that lead members of both parties to take uncompromising positions and result in government gridlock.  Jeff would have thoroughly analyzed Obama’s performance these past four years and would similarly have given Mitt Romney every opportunity to convince him that he had the best plan to reduce unemployment and the deficit, to stimulate economic growth, and to do so without compromising our military strength and important social programs through excessive spending cuts.

Not even two months into Obama’s presidency, Jeff was already monitoring his approach to and progress in dealing with the financial crisis.  On March 4th, 2009, he sent me the following email sharing the latest article he had read on that topic:

“Here’s a counter to the idea that Obama’s not doing anything to fix the financial crisis”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/us/04states.html?_r=1 

When I pointed out to Jeff that it wasn’t surprising that such an article was published in a newspaper that was known as a left wing publication, he was shocked.  He emailed back:

I explained to Jeff that I was half joking when I wrote that about the article but that it was certainly true that the papers’ editorial page is where one would find the left-leaning views that I referred to.  His email had reflected both his innocence and idealism at that time, which is why he found it difficult to accept that a well known newspaper would be anything but perfectly neutral in all parts of its publication.  Jeff was intrigued by what I had just taught him, and he wanted to pursue it further.  He wrote:

I pointed out that it didn’t necessarily work that way, and I gave Jeff examples of newspapers that were known right-wing publications such as the notorious New York Post.  That didn’t surprise him, as he shared this disgraceful example:

“That makes sense that the NY Post is far right wing.  That would explain that political cartoon a couple of weeks ago that depicted Barack Obama as a monkey.”

I very much enjoyed playing a part in Jeff’s growing political awareness, and it is one of the sets of memories that I will always treasure.  And in honor of those memories and despite my own political leanings, I will be
proudly wearing Jeff’s Obama ’08 T-shirt on this Election Night.

And I didn’t know, until just finding this shirt in Jeff’s room last week, that Jeff had written on the back:

Intelligence > Ignorance

Yes We Did.

But here’s the bottom line and the answer to the question I’ve posed.  Jeff’s euphoria over Obama’s victory in 2008 had slowly but steadily waned over the ensuing two years.  Although Jeff’s experience of having to search for a job for six months after graduation before landing one was better than that of many 2009 graduates, it still made an impression on him.  As a magna cum laude graduate of Middlebury College, the fact that he couldn’t write his own ticket impressed upon him how dire the nation’s employment situation was and that it needed to be fixed.  With unemployment still hovering near 8% today, he would have definitely given Romney a fair hearing.

But Romney would have deeply disappointed Jeff, starting with his insensitivity to women’s issues.  With Carey as such a guiding force in his life, this would have been a deal breaker for Jeff.  Romney’s refusal to release tax returns, his frequent verbal gaffes (including insulting our closest ally, the U.K., at the Olympics), his lack of a specific deficit reduction plan even at this late date,  and his generally uninspiring performance as a candidate would have just been icing on the cake.  As Jeff wrote in 2008, Obama’s “steadiness, intellectual curiosity and depth of knowledge” were crucially important qualities to have in a president.  He would have found Romney lacking in those areas.

And so it is clear to me that if Jeff was still with us on this coming Election Day, he would pull the lever next to President Obama’s name once again, albeit with less conviction and enthusiasm than he did in 2008.

In my last post, I shared a small portion of Jeff’s article from October 23rd, 2008 in The Middlebury Campus, entitled “Obama’s got the right stuff”.  I thought it would be fitting, with Election Day 2012 beckoning, to end today’s post by sharing the complete article that Jeff was so excited to write.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

This past Sunday, the Obama campaign got an enormous boost from an official endorsement by one of the most respected political figures in the country, Colin Powell.  Powell toted Senator Obama as a “transformational figure.  He is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage.”

But even more astute was another comment Powell made of Obama, in which he stated that Obama has “displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge.”  That statement could not have been more on the money, and it epitomizes the issues that I’d like to discuss in further detail.

Simply put, in these most extraordinary of times, we need an intelligent president.  One that, unlike our current president George Bush and Republican nominee John McCain, recognizes that not every issue is black and white, that—believe it or not—some issues actually require complex reasoning and analysis.  Moreover, we need a president who understands that the dreaded “flip flop” label, which Republicans so shamelessly attached to John Kerry back in 2004, can actually have a positive connotation.  It means that you have the intellectual capacity and sound judgment to adjust to changing circumstances and make the correct decision, the very quality that George Bush sorely lacks.  But hey, at least he’s a “strong, decisive leader” that makes decisions straight from the gut.  That’s gotten our country so far, right?

In a recent interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Obama proved exactly how his ability to think critically about complex issues and adjust his positions to changing circumstances would benefit the country.  After Lauer pointed out that U.S. officials and Iraqi officials have been negotiating an agreement whereby U.S. combat troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011—an agreement that would conflict with Obama’s stated withdrawal timeline of 2010—he asked if such an agreement, if formalized, would become meaningless in an Obama presidency.  In other words, would Obama still try to impose his current position on the country and pull out of Iraq by 2010?  Obama answered, “If I ever make a determination that the American people will be safer by me making adjustments, I will make those adjustments because that’s my job.  My assessment right now is that in 16 months, we can have our combat troops out.  We will still have a residual force there.”  Can you ever imagine McCain giving such a thoughtful, candid answer?  In a similar situation, he would probably regurgitate for the umpteenth time that “My friends, I will make sure we win the war in Iraq and win it with honor.”

Thus, the need to elect an intelligent leader should be paramount to voters’ decision of whom to vote for.  It is a sad reflection on our society that in fact many people base their decision on who should hold the highest office in the land on mostly irrelevant issues.  While I have no exact statistics to confirm my point, I think it is reasonable to assume that numerous citizens throughout the country who plan on voting for McCain are doing so based on the misguided notion that Obama somehow lacks “family values” or isn’t a “true American.”  What does that even mean?  And more to the point, why do so many people fall into the trap of letting those shallow, uninformed beliefs overshadow what we should focus on: who has the ability to make the most well-informed, reasoned decisions that will benefit our country as a whole?  To take a specific example of misplaced priorities that particularly irk me, I can only look on in incredulity when I read that there are actually people who would vote against Obama and all he brings to the table because their priest told them that it would be a sin to vote for the pro-choice candidate.  I mean, seriously?  I consider myself fairly religious, but that is the type of fear mongering that inhibits the electorate’s ability to make a rational, informed decision on who would make the best president.

What I’m trying to say is that in less than two weeks, we have a decision to make that will substantially affect the future of our country.  Beginning on January 20, 2009, will our country be led by an impulsive, erratic, “every issue is black and white” President McCain, or will it be led by, as Colin Powell so nicely summarized, a man who displays steadiness, intellectual curiosity, and a depth of knowledge—a leader by the name of President Obama?  For the sake of our country, I hope that it is the latter.

-Jeff Klein, Notes From the Desk, The Middlebury Campus, 10/23/08

Jeff’s Passionate Support Of Obama In The Days Of “Yes We Can”

26 Sep

-Email from Jeff, 3/9/09

The late summer and fall of 2008 was arguably one of the scarier times in our country’s history.  In one weekend alone, our government declined to save Lehman Brothers from bankruptcy, and Bank of America stepped in to buy Merrill Lynch when it was on the brink of collapse.  A few days after this, the feds had to step in to save AIG with an $85 billion rescue package, and on September 29th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged a record 777.68 points, continuing a devastating bear market in stocks.  The retirement nest eggs of many Americans were evaporating before their very eyes, home values were plummeting, unemployment was beginning to soar, and to many, it felt as if the world was coming to an end.

But at 21 years old, Jeff embodied the spirit and sentiments of tens of thousands of college students across the nation, and he viewed that very same time period through a very different prism.  For him, it was a time of great hope and excitement.  Jeff was a history major, and history was in the making.  A young, dynamic candidate named Barack Obama was running to become our first African American President, and he campaigned on a platform of hope and change.

Jeff became an instant supporter and he devoted himself to the cause by trying to convince anyone who would listen (including his Republican father) that it was crucial to all of our futures that Obama be elected.  In his opinion, George W. Bush had sorely lacked the intelligence necessary to be this country’s President and to be an effective global leader.  In this regard, Jeff felt Obama would represent a huge upgrade and would enable us to rebuild our relationships with crucial allies around the world and to regain their respect.  Not that Jeff was any sort of intellectual snob- he was anything but.  He just felt that the person holding the most important job in the land should have a modicum of intelligence to enable him/her to think clearly and analytically to address the nation’s problems.

The 2012 Presidential campaign, which is now in the stretch run, has sparked so many amazing memories for me of the 2008 campaign, and specifically how much fun it was enjoying with Jeff the months leading up to the election. He couldn’t have been more excited to vote for a presidential candidate for the first time, especially since he wholeheartedly supported one of them.  I wanted to share these memories with the readers of this blog.

Everybody knows Jeff as a sports guy, and for good reason.  As the beat writer for the Middlebury men’s basketball team, writer of his regular J.K. Rolling sports column, sports editor of The Middlebury Campus, and creator of the Talkin’ Sports blog after college, he was certainly that.  But I wonder how many people actually know just how knowledgeable, passionate and articulate he was about politics, particularly during the 2008 campaign.  He was completely engaged in the campaign, and helping in any way he could to spread the Obama “gospel” was probably his highest priority during that time.

Jeff was determined that his first conquest would be his dad.  Jeff knew he had a shot with me, because I’m a moderate Republican, and I was so disgusted with George W that, in 2004, I did the unthinkable for a guy like me.  I voted for John Kerry.  But with Bush on his way out, Jeff was concerned that I would return to my Republican voting habits, and he was right.  I admired both Romney and McCain, and I certainly planned to vote for either of them that November.  And so, in an email sent to me on July 16, 2008, Jeff fired his opening salvo:

“The conservative Bush administration allowed us to be attacked by terrorists on 9/11, our economy is in shambles, we are hated around the world, more dependent on foreign oil than ever, the government is rife with corruption, censorship, and backroom dealing, we are trillions in debt, less able to defend ourselves because of total failure of execution on an unnecessary war in Iraq, unable to protect ourselves from natural disasters…the list goes on and on.  You had your chance and you failed.”

Wow, talk about not pulling any punches.  I reminded Jeff that I hadn’t failed- I hadn’t even voted for the guy in 2004.  I also reminded him that, while I agreed with him on Bush’s shortcomings, he wasn’t running this time around- don’t condemn the whole party because of this one guy.  Instead, keep an open mind and evaluate McCain and Romney on their own merits.  My arguments were to no avail.  Obama’s campaign slogan, which resonated not only with Jeff, but with millions of other Americans, was “Yes We Can.”  Jeff loved it, so much so that he regularly and randomly would say that to me out of the blue.

In August of that summer, we took a family trip to Paris and Barcelona.  We of course went the top of the Eiffel Tower, taking in the magnificent view.  And the Louvre, Musee de L’Armee and Arc de Triomphe. Then in Barcelona, we walked on Las Ramblas time and again and enjoyed the amazing architecture.  But as much as anything, I remember Jeff talking about the primaries and his hope that Obama would win the Democratic nomination.  And a week later, at the end of the month, Obama did just that, prevailing over Hillary Clinton, and Jeff went out and bought the Obama poster he had been looking for, with a drawing of the candidate and that slogan on it.  He immediately tacked it to the wall above his bed at home, where it remains today.

At the top of the Eiffel Tower, August 2008

At the Joan Miro museum in Barcelona, August 2008

In my heart, I knew deep down that the country would not likely go for four more years under a Republican President.  Yet, I completely enjoyed my ongoing political repartee with Jeff, and I loved goading him periodically about the possibility of Obama blowing this golden opportunity against a wounded Republican party.   On September 8th, I emailed Jeff an article from CNN.com written by Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who had worked in the Reagan administration.  The article’s title was “Obama Wrong To Spurn Hillary, Pick Biden”, and it basically said that Obama’s VP choice did the least to enhance a ticket since the elder Bush picked Dan Quayle in 1988.  Within 30 minutes, Jeff fired back with the following email:

“I agree that he should have chosen Hillary, obviously, because then he would have had the election in the bag, but apparently he doesn’t want that.  But I think it’s ludicrous for this guy Ed Rollins to say that the choice of Biden does the least to enhance a ticket since 1988, because Biden provides exactly what Obama lacks: experience on foreign policy.  I see that the Republicans are getting a big convention bounce.  It’s going to be really close.”

I couldn’t resist emailing Jeff back and pushing the point that Obama made a dumb move by not picking Hillary and locking up the election.  Jeff’s response was classic:

“Yea, that’s true, if Obama wanted to ensure a victory, he should’ve picked Clinton.  But at the same time, you can also argue that the majority of this country is made up of morons who vote McCain for stupid reasons.”

At that point, the seeds of doubt had been sowed in Jeff’s mind.  But I think his comments above were spot on.  Biden did fill an important gap for Obama, and his experience would likely help the ticket.  To keep him riled up, though, I emailed him a Bloomberg article two days later whose headline screamed that McCain was surging in the polls, making the Democrats nervous.  His reply had some nervousness in it too.  He wrote:

“Yea, I’m worried about what has been unfolding as of late.  I just hope that the electoral map that I’ve envisioned works out.  Obama’s definitely going to lose a lot of states, but if he can hang on in the critical states, he still has a good chance.”

Jeff had actually mapped it all out by then, and by his tally, Obama would still pull it off.  He was extremely analytical about everything, and this election campaign was no exception.  On September 26th, I emailed Jeff to let him know that CNN had just put Michigan in the “leaning toward Obama” category and that I thought the financial crisis would be McCain’s undoing.  His response illustrated that he didn’t need me to tell him anything about the electoral map.  He was all over it:

“Yea, McCain’s call to cancel the first debate was pure politics, and something the majority of the American voters will see through.  Polls show that states that for the last few months have been solidly pro-McCain (North Carolina, Missouri, West Virginia) are extremely close now; a Rasmussen poll yesterday even showed Obama up by two points in North Carolina.  I think the wheels are truly falling off the McCain express, but only time will tell.”

The wheels may have been falling off, but given the enormity of what was at stake, Jeff was determined not to leave anything to chance.  In his view, if he could change even one mind, convert even one McCain supporter to Obama, it was worth the effort.  His first order of business that fall was to make sure he had all his closest friends in the right camp.  On October 2nd, things were looking good for Obama, and I emailed Jeff that in a month’s time, the party would be on at Middlebury.  He agreed:

“Will it ever.  This campus will be nuts.  I saw Jamie Robins tonight and we were talking a little bit about politics.  His dad is also in finance and is a republican and will probably vote for McCain, but at the same time, is a sensible person who understands the dire implications of a McCain presidency.  All my Chappaqua friends are now on board the Obama express; by that I mean Jack and Ryan, who at the beginning of the summer were McCain supporters but now have seen what a joke the ticket is and are now in the Obama camp.”

Jeff was pumped.  He felt his voice was being heard, and It energized him.  So he resolved not to stop there.  Although the Middlebury campus was overwhelmingly in favor of Obama, Jeff wanted unanimity.  He wanted to make sure every last person on that campus—students, professors, administrators, cafeteria workers, everyone– was an Obama supporter so that the whole place could erupt in celebration in unison on election night.

But he needed a bigger forum, and time was running out.  And so, in mid-October, Jeff went to the Managing Editor of The Middlebury Campus newspaper and strongly requested the opportunity to write a column on the paper’s Opinions page prior to the election.  As most people who know Jeff will attest, it is pretty hard to say no to Jeff Klein (I know I never could), especially in relation to something he is passionate about.  So what the heck if Jeff had only written about sports up to that point- the Managing Editor quickly acquiesced and Jeff was slotted in to be the guest author for the regular Opinions column entitled “Notes From The Desk”, on October 23rd. 

The result was a big success and something Jeff was very proud of. The piece was entitled “Obama’s Got The Right Stuff”, and suffice to say, the sports guy had scored with his first political opinion article.  He received congratulatory emails and high fives on campus, and he felt exhilarated by the response.  As for me, his Republican father, I was so proud that I began to secretly accept that an Obama victory was imminent, and I resolved to just enjoy my son’s excitement at this outcome (I didn’t tell him this, though).  Here are a couple of snippets from the article:

“Simply put, in these most extraordinary times, we need an intelligent president.  One that, unlike our current president George Bush and Republican nominee John McCain, recognizes that not every issue is black and white, that—believe it or not—some issues actually require complex reasoning and analysis.  Moreover, we need a president who understands that the dreaded “flip-flop” label, which Republicans so shamelessly attached to John Kerry back in 2004, can actually have a positive connotation.  It means that you have the intellectual capacity and sound judgment to adjust to changing circumstances and make the correct decision, the very quality that George Bush sorely lacks…

“What I’m trying to say is that in less than two weeks, we have a decision to make that will substantially affect the future of our country.  Beginning on January 20, 2009, will our country be led by an impulsive, erratic, ‘every issue is black and white’ President McCain, or will it be led by, as Colin Powell so nicely summarized, a man who displays steadiness, intellectual curiosity, and a depth of knowledge—a leader by the name of President Obama ?  For the sake of our country, I hope that it is the latter.”

When Carey and I complimented him by email on the great piece, he responded:  “Yea, it’s a matter of restoring integrity, respectability, and most importantly, intelligence to the White House.  Only Obama will bring that.  I want to be proud of my country again.” 

With the inevitability of an Obama victory becoming clear, I couldn’t resist one final opportunity to push Jeff’s buttons.  And so on October 22nd, I emailed him a shocking article from Yahoo! News, whose title was “AP presidential poll: All even in the homestretch.”  Jeff was stunned and clearly baffled.  He immediately responded:

“I can’t believe this.  This directly contradicts an article on today’s front page of the Wall Street Journal saying that Obama has opened up a double-digit lead and has gained substantially with almost every group, including independents, suburban voters, and people over 65.”

At that point, Jeff had given his first election campaign as a voter everything he had, and there was nothing more to do but wait for the votes to be counted (including his own absentee ballot).  He had rested his case.  The Middlebury book store held a contest for students to submit their electoral vote predictions.  Jeff submitted a count of 318-220 in favor of Obama.  It turns out he was being too conservative with that tally.  McCain only wished it was that close.

Seconds after 11pm Eastern Standard Time on November 4, 2008, the instant the polls closed in the western states, all of the major networks immediately called the election for Obama.  My eyes welled with tears, candidly not because of the historic nature of the moment, but because of the email that I knew was bound to hit my AOL account within a matter of minutes after the initial round of congratulatory hugs were exchanged at Middlebury.  And sure enough, there it was, three minutes later.  It was short and sweet, not gloating, but just triumphant and respectful.  At exactly 11:03pm, Jeff sent the following email to me:

The tears that had welled proceeded then to stream, as I contemplated with great pride how my son had become an engaged, energized and thoughtful young adult over the preceding six months, before my very eyes.  And the fact that I shared this period of time so closely with him made it all the more special.  How ironic it is that I specifically remember thinking about how Jeff had so much to offer the world over the coming years and that any company or organization would be very lucky to have him on their side.  President Obama sure was.

While Obama has since called people like me “fat cats” and has been a disappointment to many others, I always remember one thing.  He was my son’s candidate and the one who energized him in a way that was beautiful to watch.  I remain grateful to him for that.  I also feel sorry for the President, though, that one of his greatest supporters will not be here to help him during what could turn out to be a very tight re-election contest.

The afterglow of victory lasted throughout the rest of that fall semester.  The electoral votes were not fully counted until over two weeks after election night, and on November 19th, Jeff joyfully emailed me the following update:

“Do you know that Obama ended up winning an electoral vote in Nebraska?!  The electoral votes in that state are divided up by congressional district and Obama ended up nabbing one.  Adding to the landslide—I love it.  And apparently Missouri isn’t officially decided yet either, so that could potentially be 11 more in his column.”

Shortly after Jeff’s email, Missouri was called for McCain.  Too little, too late for the Arizona Senator.

And then there was this little email tirade at 3am on November 20th: “I’m sorry, I’ve had a few drinks because of wnb [Wednesday night Beirut, a Middlebury staple] but I still hold my convictions and even though I know Obama will be inaugurated on jan. 20, 2009, I still get enraged listening to this idiot [Bush] and knowing that our stupid country elected him to lead us for 8 years. 

p.s. I don’t know if you read dan roberts’ column in the most recent edition of the middlebury campus, but basically what he said is the truest—and saddest—statement about our country.  It goes something like this: what the hell are the satirists, comedians and the media in general going to do once Obama is elected president?  I mean, there’s nothing really to make fun of, nothing really to occupy their time.  They might go out of business.”

To further celebrate the victory, Jeff wrote on the bottom of his Obama poster, “Yes We Did”.

And to close out the fall semester in style, Jeff texted me the following reminder on December 7th: “Obama’s getting inaugurated in less than a month and a half. Ahhhhhhhhhh !!!!!!!”

How and why Jeff went from “Yes We Can” to “No I Never Will” just two short years later is a mystery so deep and so confounding that it keeps many of my nights sleepless and rattles me to the core.  But rather than dwelling on that, I am ending this post by sending out a call to arms to all the readers of this blog.

When you take a mental survey of every person that you care about, please don’t take any of their outward appearances as the definitive measure of their current emotional state.  I know it may seem unnatural in a day-to-day relationship context with a friend or family member (especially a child or young adult), but you must periodically ask the tough and perhaps awkward questions of that person- how are they really feeling about things?  Are there any issues that are bothering them?  You must let them know that you are there for them to talk about anything 24/7.  You must press the people you care about to open up to you, even if they are private and reserved by nature.

If you’ve read this post, you hopefully have gleaned from it just how happy and vibrant Jeff was in 2008.  Well, guess what?  He was happy and vibrant all the way through August of 2010.  Until he wasn’t any more.  And so lesson number two is that keeping tabs on your friends and loved ones is an ongoing process that never ends.  It’s like analyzing a company’s balance sheet, which is a statement of financial condition on one specific day.  But a week, a month, or a year later, it could be completely different.  So too with a person’s emotional condition.  So don’t ever get complacent when it comes to those you love.  And to state the obvious, if you yourself are feeling unhealthy in any way, SPEAK UP and don’t wait for people to ask.  The relationships we have with our loved ones are partnerships, and that brings with it a responsibility on the part of both sides to communicate. 

Carey’s and my lines of communication with Jeff had been wide open since the day he learned how to talk, so we knew how much he was struggling during those last two months.  But I don’t think anyone else knew the extent of it, because on the surface, he was the same old Jeff– still going out and partying in Manhattan to his very last weekend.  In Jeff’s case, we were aware of the problem, addressed it aggressively and still couldn’t save him.  However, that won’t be the case with everyone.  There are those who can be saved, and that is the goal—to find those lurking dangers and to address them before it’s too late.

I’ll practice what I preach and break the ice.  Here’s how I’m doing:

I have endured a parent’s worst nightmare and have many rough, deeply painful days and nights.  The magnitude of the sense of loss that I feel is immeasurable.  I have shed enough tears to fill an Olympic-sized pool and I’m sure there are many tears to come in the months and years ahead.  My spirit has been badly damaged.  I miss my boy and everything about him.

But I am a blessed man with three precious sons, two here and one in Heaven, and they all love me.  I have a wife like no other, friends and family who care about me, and I will love and take care of them all forever.  I am here for the duration and am not going anywhere until God decides it’s my time.  Until then, I am committed to the cause of eradicating the plague of suicide from our society.

In my case, you don’t need to ask me periodically, because the answer will never change.  I’m severely wounded but ok.   And while I may no longer be Superman, I am still pretty damn strong, and I will fight through this by honoring the memory of my beautiful son Jeff for the rest of my life.  I will keep him alive through this blog, this special gift from my and Jeff’s dear friend, Elon Rubin, and through the Friends of Jeff Klein Facebook page.  And I will celebrate Jeff by attempting to live each and every day according to the mantra that he so passionately embraced, not only in 2008, but for the first 23 ½ years of his life:

Yes We Can.

 

-Rich Klein