In sharing some of what he’s learned over the years, former Vice President Joe Biden said no amount of money can protect from pollution, joblessness or grief.
“For me, the way through grief is finding purpose,” he said. “Ted Kennedy was one of my mentors. He died of the exact same cancer that John McCain has and Beau died of.”
Fans and supporters of all ages filled Carnegie Music Hall to hear Biden speak about his memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.” Free copies were distributed as attendees entered for Biden’s talk about everything from his family’s struggles of maintaining a positive outlook after the death of his son Beau Biden to his relationship with former President Barack Obama.
“I’ve insisted that we’ve maintained the same traditions we’ve always maintained, and it’s hard. It’s really, really, really hard … that first Christmas, that first Thanksgiving, that first birthday, the first summer, that first whatever it is,” he said.
Biden said he wanted to complete the book quickly because writing it was so emotional. One of the most important messages he wanted to convey was his son’s sense of duty and responsibility.
“Beau’s constant response during his illness was, ‘Dad, you gotta do your job,’ ‘Dad, don’t let anyone know that I’m sick,’ ‘Mom, when they ask you about me, smile,’ ‘Mom, smile let them know I’m doing okay,’ ‘I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me, Dad’,” he said.
The former vice president often struggled with balancing work and family life, which was the main reason for his initial reluctance to accept the vice presidency. He praised Obama for balancing such a heavy workload as he entered the presidency and explained that the two grew close because he often shared that workload.
“So many people answered to me because he had so much on his plate, so I couldn’t walk away from it,” he said. “I wrote about it in detail because I wanted people to understand our son.”
Biden occasionally charmed the audience to diffuse the tension of heavy topics. He said he was referring to Obama as “Barack,” although he usually calls him Mr. President, because he did not want the crowd to confuse him with President Trump, which drew a round of applause.
“Those memes are accurate, by the way,” Biden said to a crowd of laughs, prefacing his close relationship with Obama.
Biden went on to talk about the closeness between his family and the Obamas and shared that the night before his vice presidential nomination, his grandchildren and Obama’s children all had a sleepover together. At that moment, he said, he knew he had made the right decision.
After Biden shared these experiences, many attendees expressed awe of his stories and work. Leah Wilson, 31, of Mt. Lebanon, said she is a longtime fan of his humanitarian work.
“I appreciated how he always came back to the same theme of service and doing things for others,” she said.
Lindsey Holzer, 26, of Mt. Lebanon, said she has followed Biden’s career for as long as she can remember. She saw him when he came to Pitt’s campus last year — her last year at Pitt’s School of Law.
“I think he’s made such a difference, for women especially. So I was just really eager to continue to support him any way I can,” she said. “I think he’s always been very uplifting, even when talking about things that are obviously very challenging, and to see him reminded me of the phrase, ‘If you only remember to turn on the light.’”
Brittany Holzer, 29, of Mt. Lebanon, thought all of the speech resonated either directly or indirectly with her.
“You can tell he speaks from the heart, so even in situations that haven’t affected you personally, he injects a component that makes you identify with it in your own special way, even if it’s not based on the topic that he’s talking about,” she said.
While Biden often focused on the death of his son, he wanted the audience to resonate with his message of hope — using Beau’s hardships as an example of maintaining an optimistic outlook no matter the circumstances. He described wheeling Beau out of the hospital to show him the stars to remind his son that hope is everywhere.
“You can’t live without hope,” Biden said. “Even when you’re dying, you can’t continue without hope.”