SHE DIED JUST as I arrived at the wrong hospital. It was Wednesday afternoon, February 24, and the First Lady, Jill Biden, was making her first official trip outside Washington to tour the labs of the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. My brother called again. At a different hospital 900 miles away, doctors could not revive our mother. She was gone before I could find the parking garage. She was 59.
In the auditorium, the First Lady talked about her friend Winnie. In 1993, the same year my mother had me at age 30, not much older than I am now, four of Dr. Biden’s friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. “Three of them survived,” she said. “Winnie did not.” I’m sure I’m not the first daughter consumed by the brutal irony of this disease; the very parts of my mother that sustained my life helped end hers. Winnie had three children. “As the Gospel of John says, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it,’” the First Lady said. It was Winnie’s death, she added, that led her to found the Biden Breast Health Initiative. “Out of sorrow, we found purpose.”
If other politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose, Joe Biden does both in eulogy. For five decades, his pain has been a most unusual political asset, a cynical gift disguised as a curse. Looking back, it seems obvious it would deliver him to the presidency at our darkest moment. His inauguration on January 20 felt like a memorial. With no crowd behind the gates at the fortress of the Capitol, and a gulf of six feet between each chair, it was still and silent as he swore the oath of office on the site of the January 6 insurrection, inheriting an America in the grips of sickness and mourning. The five weeks of the Biden era have been a neverending wake, presided over by a spiritual leader of a secular government, a foremost authority on sadness.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
This One's on Her
A melancholy farce is nearly capsized by its star.
Daniel Dae Kim built a career by picking his battles, walking away from a job only when the inequities got too big to ignore. He still believes Hollywood can be reformed.
The Detonations of Alice Neel
A survey of her portraits at the Met is packed with raw emotional power.
The City Politic: David Freedlander
Stringer Theory The comptroller’s reward for a career in public service? Third place in the polls.
Political Animals: Olivia Nuzzi
The No-Splash Tell-all What the muted reaction to Hunter Biden’s crackfueled memoir says about his father’s Washington.
Moral Panic Is Back With a Vengeance
Lil Nas X’s “Montero” is the latest song to raise the hackles of conservative commentators—and everyone has a little something to gain from the controversy.
Esther Perel Goes Off Script
She became today’s most famous couples therapist by ignoring all the rules of the trade.
Mayor de Blasio hired an ''equity warrior'' as schools chancellor. How parental politics-and the pandemic-left him defeated
Richard Carranza’s Last Stand
Kingpins and wannabes barrel through the London underworld.
BidenBucks Is Beeple Is Bitcoin
In a system rigged by the rich, outsiders have to make their own volatility.