A Solitary Man

Posted on January 27, 2021 by shackelford under Uncategorized
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In 2002 Patricia Talorico sat quietly on a bench at Highlands Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware.  She had been assigned to do a story on a budding politician—an assignment that had already gotten her a royal chewing by the man’s opponent.  Her editor wanted something special, something that, in her words, would “sing”—and she had no idea what that was.  As she sat dejectedly thumbing through her notes, a voice said hello and asked if she was all right.  She looked up and found herself talking to Beau Biden.  He wasn’t trying to make an impression, just being kind, and it was a gesture that meant the world to her at the time.

Now, before I continue with my story, I want to take a minute to assure everyone—there is nothing political about this post.  Although the cast of characters includes some well-known political names and references political events, I am not, nor will I ever, endorse or condemn anyone’s political beliefs in this forum.  That being said, I shall now continue.

That act of kindness in 2002 is what led Ms. Talorico to the cemetery where Beau Biden is buried on January 20, 2021.  She had been tasked with traveling about the state of Delaware and gauging the reaction of the residents to one of their own being inaugurated.  It seemed only fitting in her mind that she pay her respects to the absent son of the new president before she began her mission.  That’s why she was in the cemetery on that particular day.  And it is how she was privileged to see the lone officer, kneeling in respect, at the grave of Beau Biden while his father spoke after being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.

That officer stayed throughout the inaugural address, kneeling before the stone that marked the grave of the President’s first born, his hands clasped as though in prayer, his head bowed to shut out the world.  Other than a few cemetery personnel, no one else was present.  And rather than approach the person, Ms. Talorico decided to respect his privacy.  The journalist in her wanted to ask all the questions.  Who are you?  Why are you here?  Did someone ask you to come?  Did you know Beau Biden or serve with him?  But the human in her understood those answers were not important.  This person had chosen to be there privately, without fanfare or public pronouncement, and she chose to honor his desire for solitude. Through her car window she took the photo that has since gone viral . . . the photo you see here.  And then she left.

I don’t know why this person was there.  Well, I do, but I don’t. I don’t know if they were asked to be there or if they simply, for whatever reason, had an overwhelming desire to experience that moment in that place.  But I do know they were there to honor someone who was deeply missed at a time when his family would have given almost anything to have him with them.  I don’t know who that person was . . . as of this writing, I’m not sure much of anyone does.  And I hope it stays that way.  Because in his anonymity, he represents all of us.  He is the embodiment of the grief we feel at Christmas when a chair once occupied now stands empty.  When a birthday rolls around but that one special phone call doesn’t come.  When we have good news to share or need a shoulder to lean on . . . and to cry on . . . and the one person we want most to be with us can only do so in spirit.  The person kneeling at Beau Biden’s grave that day is all of us as we kneel at the graves of those we love, whether physically or emotionally or both, and wish desperately for their presence at the most important—and the most mundane—moments of our lives.



About the author:  Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926.  She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there.  Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.

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