I’ve written before in these pages about how in 2007 our family was under great stress and began watching the television show The West Wing on DVD (previously I had not watched television for many years). We watched an episode as a family every single night with dinner. For years. When we finished the entire series, we started it all over again from the beginning.
The West Wing held us together. There was a lot we couldn’t talk about, but we could discuss Jed, Josh, Toby, C.J., and Donna.
All four of us loved the show, but DH, as the chief executive of a boarding school — a small fiefdom to itself — saw many parallels between Jed Bartlet’s job and his own. The only difference was one of scale. So much was familiar: the communication issues, the power and authority issues (even down to the wife who is often not kept informed!). Perhaps most familiar of all was the challenge of dealing with one crisis only to have another erupt. The “what’s next?” factor.
DH actually once gave a presentation at a national conference on school administration using Bartlet clips from The West Wing. The room was jammed.
I enjoy The West Wing, but it isn’t quite the touchstone to me that it is to DH. I recognize that for him it is more than a well-written television show, it’s comfort food, much like the Laura Ingalls Wilder children’s books are to me, or Harry Potter is for Lucy.
Recently DH’s life and job have been stressful. He works constantly. Though over the last decade we’ve seen the entire series several times, we hadn’t recently, so I wasn’t surprised this spring when, as the stress mounted, he turned to me and said, “Want to watch West Wing?”
Watching the early episodes, an idea struck me for his birthday. I went on Ebay and bought a photo of the West Wing cast. Then I wrote a letter and sent the photo and a stamped, self-addressed return envelope to Martin Sheen, who plays DH’s alter ego, Jed Bartlet.
Two weeks later, an envelope returned. In it was the cast photo, signed by Martin Sheen.
Also enclosed was a photo of Mr. Sheen as Jed Bartlet. Sadly, it was inscribed to me. Argh! Such a kind thought, unfortunately misdirected.
I chewed my fingers and then wrote to Mr. Sheen again (“I know you may think I’m a nut”) and asked if he would mind sending another photo of himself as Jed, inscribed to DH. Again I sent the mailer and SASE. There was a long silence. Lucy and I checked the mail anxiously.
Jed Bartlet came through. Yesterday DH opened his last present, after the used books, shorts, and shoes.
The inscription reads:
Hey, what’s next?
Ah yes, your Birthday!
Oh, Happy Day!
With every good wish,
July 11, 2016
“The West Wing ’99-06”
What a kind man.
It’s safe to say DH was flabbergasted. Happy birthday to my very dear husband. “What’s next?”