TITLE: When We Touched the Face of God.
EPISODE: "The Crackpots and These Women"
DISCLAIMER: Aaron Sorkin is a genus and a linguistic musician – All kudos to him for developing these characters... they are all his.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have always loved Schubert's "Ave Maria" and its use in this episode was amazing. Josh Lyman is a compelling character, one with whom I feel a connection, and I wanted to delve into his feelings of being a survivor and the guilt that entails.
The ethereal music floated through his head as he held the small plastic card in his hand.
Josh had known that he was meeting with a representative of the NSC, but thought nothing of it as he walked into Leo's office. Jonathan Lacey handed him the card and indicated that it must be on his person at all times, a permanent fixture more important than his driver's license. No larger than his ATM card – it fit in the same spot in his wallet – it was relatively innocuous, a small piece of plastic that was as heavy as a brick in his hand.
He looked up at the two men, the realization of the card's meaning becoming painfully clear and heard the soft sound of Schubert floating through the recesses of his mind, chased swiftly by a deathly feeling of fear. Whatever happened that caused him to have to use the directions written on this card, he would have to do so alone – without the ones who surrounded him, laughed with him, breathed with him.
Maria, gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena
As he left Leo's office, Josh felt overwhelmed with a feeling he couldn't name – the sweet soprano in the back of his mind blocking him from putting his finger on it. Walking through his day, he tried to silence the music – throwing himself into his work and forcing himself to do whatever he could to quiet the notes in his head. After all, the card in his wallet was simply part and parcel of his job – he hadn't requested it, nor even contemplated the possibilities that were so obvious now he had it in his possession.
Ave, ave dominus
He had asked Sam about the card - what Sam had done when he found out that Cathy wouldn't be with him if something happened. After all, Sam was a Senior Staff member of the President, too, and it never occurred to Josh that they all wouldn't be saved. The blank look on Sam's face rocked Josh to his core and it was then that the song got louder and Josh began to feel as if he was looking at the walking dead.
Benedicta to un mulieribus
Stanley had urged him to come over right away when Josh called to say he needed to talk. The melody had become louder and the memories of the past were walking hand in hand with the living and Josh knew he needed to do something to get control over himself. As he told Stanley about the music, Josh realized that it had been Joanie's favorite piece – one she would play over and over long into the night. From the recesses of his eight year old mind, Josh could see her lying on her bed, conducting the orchestra in the dark.
He told Stanley about the fire, not knowing why it was so important to him right now. After all, it had happened over thirty years ago and had nothing to do with nuclear war or smallpox or any of those desperate, terrifying thoughts that were racing through his mind. He wanted to tell Stanley about the card. Stanley would be able to put the pieces together for him, he was certain. But there are things even a psychiatrist can't know, and as the music played in his head, Josh returned to his office.
Et benedictus fructus ventris
Ventris tuae, Jesus.
CJ caught him listening to the music later that night... the soaring melody drowning out her knocks on his office door. She was the only one he told about the card, knowing she didn't have one, Toby and Sam didn't have one, Donna didn't have one. He needed her to know that he had this telltale card in his wallet that meant he would live and she would die and he couldn't look her in the face anymore without her knowing all of these things.
He had never been able to tell Joanie.
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus
The knowledge of his guaranteed survival tightened a cord around his heart. Thirty years ago, he had run out of a burning house a survivor. The house around him now was not burning, but he could hear the music and roar of the fire in his head when he looked at his extended family in the President's quarters and knew they would be consumed in the fire that might come.
Ora pro nobis
Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus
Mrs. Landingham, who had dedicated her life and years of selflessness to the President would be left behind, no more important than a leaf left to blow away after a harsh autumn wind.
Nunc et in hora mortis
Et in hora mortis nostrae
Bonnie, Carol, Margaret and Cathy – each of whom was devoted to her boss, considered a friend and a colleague – they would vanish, wisps of memory gone in an instant.
Et in hora mortis nostrae
CJ, Toby and Sam, his sister and brothers who had loved, laughed, cried and fought with him, would be ghosts in his past, left to fight on their own – a fractured family.
Et hora mortis nostrae
And Donna... he couldn't put the words together to explain what Donna was to him, or how the idea of leaving her behind stopped his breath.
He thought of these friends, his extended family for whom he would willingly give his life, and Joanie, and the beautiful soprano singing in his head and knew that he could no longer carry that small piece of plastic and keep on loving all of them.
As he pulled out the card and handed it to the President and Leo, the song slowly started to fade away, becoming softer and sweeter as the words tumbled out of his mouth, "I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy and I want to celebrate with them in triumph and for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye. Leo, this isn't for me."
When the words were finished, he heard silence, and looking around the room he realized that in life or death, these were the people he loved, and he would draw strength from them until the song returned no more.