Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation: but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last night I, like thousands of Americans, tuned in to watch the Democratic National Convention, which followed closely on the heels of its counterpart, the Republican National Convention. As a former high school debater and lifetime lover of speech and rhetoric, political speeches offer an opportunity to witness the art of persuasive speaking, hopefully at its finest: Fresh new thinking, eloquently expressed passion, thoughtful arguments in continuance of our nation's Presidential debates. What startled me in its complete unexpectedness, was to see a woman I know and admire stand on the podium, and in her friendly, humble way, introduce First Lady Michelle Obama for her keynote address.
In a short introduction, this woman I admire so greatly, spoke softly about those who serve our country and their families; and about our national obligation to our wounded warriors. What few know that I and many many military academy parents know, is that Elaine Brye, whose husband was a combat pilot in Vietnam and who calls home a family farm in Ohio, is more than a veteran, mother, and teacher. Four of her five children serve in different branches of military service, and the fifth, graduating high school, hopes to be on his way soon. She is the kind of woman to devote a year to public service, teaching in Kabul. And most important to my personal experience, a volunteer parent liaison who reaches out to other military academy parents, as she herself has been, to offer the comfort and support necessary to bolster our commitment to our sons and daughters on the unique and challenging journey of attending a military academy on their way to military careers and public service.
In 2009, as my son began his military education and service at the United States Naval Academy, Elaine Brye was the new friend on the other end of a phone call, a hug, an encouraging email. She was the voice of reason, the archive of things past and the wisdom of experience. She was a shoulder to many to cry on when things grew dark or discouraging. She was always that one person, parent-to-parent, you could count on to listen and offer support, knowing that honor and youthful commitment aside, these were our kids. And there she was, smiling and full of light on the stage of the DNC, grasping hands in welcome with our First Lady. I caught my breath in awe, watching her stand there, quiet and real, living testimony to what her passion is - America's men and women in military service and the support of their families.
The post-script to this epic moment for me is that nothing in Elaine's life would have struck any of us as a path to here. She has, as Emerson urged, simply expressed her best. Her unique passion and full-throttle energy, her love of others. Even her warmth to send a Christmas card to the White House, thanking the First Lady for her support of our military families. Her years of selfless dedication made her that right choice to introduce to the DNC and those of us watching at home, the First Lady to America's President and Commander in Chief. Emerson is right: None of us yet knows what our best is, nor can we, until we have exhibited it.
Elaine Brye found her moment, and through her, love shines.