Paul Conroy: The Faces of War: A Glimpse Through Photojournalism @ TEDxLisboa

Journalism—the practice of reporting on events, people and facts—is a powerful method of storytelling. The (unbiased) goal is to tell us what happened, where it happened, who was involved, and what they said. When it’s done well, there’s an opportunity for us to see the world around us through a slightly different lens.

Journalists often develop their stories in a secondhand fashion with information from outside sources. But the most impactful reporting happens on site, inside the action as it’s taking place. Not only is there a story about the events, people, and facts, there’s a second story unfolding at the same time. It’s the journalist’s personal story. A narrative which reveals what’s happening to them, as well as what they’re thinking and feeling.

This is especially true for photojournalists who work in conflict zones. A soldier engaged in battle will have some degree of agency, but anyone with a camera instead of a weapon does not possess that advantage.

As a curator and advisor for TEDxLisboa 2023, I had the honor of working with award-winning photojournalist Paul Conroy on his talk. While most speakers I work with are sitting in a safe place—at their office or home—Paul was on the front lines in Ukraine, in a city that was being bombarded by Russian forces.

Paul Conroy at TEDxLisboa 2023 Social Media

Whenever we spoke Paul’s face was lit only by the glow from his laptop screen.

“I can’t turn on any lights or the Russians will target the building I’m in.”

He took a short break from the front lines to give this talk, but he’s now back in Ukraine. His talk is not about the conflict he’s covering today—he’ll need to give that talk one day—but rather about his harrowing adventure while in Syria with Marie Colvin. Her passion for telling stories of warfare ended up costing her life. It was Paul’s honor to tell the world this story.

“So, once again, I’m back to shining lights in dark places, the haunts where despots and dictators like to operate. Once again, camera in hand, I’m back to peeling onions.

To get the full picture of Paul’s experience in Syria with Marie, I recommend reading his book, Under the Wire.

Under the Wire by Paul Conroy

The full story would take many, many hours to tell, but Paul masterfully crafted a narrative that spans less than 20 minutes, yet takes you on a journey to hell and back. He choose to reveal the story in ten steps, and he calls out each one along the way. Unusual for a TEDx Talk, but I found it to be an effective way of pacing the story.


One – Assignment

Home for me in 2012 was a 17th century cottage set in the Devon countryside. I’d been in Libya for a year covering the revolution with my dear colleague Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times. I’d met Marie in Syria in 2003 when we were both trying to break into Iraq illegally, and we’ve been best friends ever since then.

The piece of my Sunday afternoon was broken with a call from the Sunday Times picture desk. “Paul, we need you to go into Syria, meet Marie in Beirut,” said Andrew.

Trouble had been brewing in Syria since the start of the Arab Spring, but now Assad was shooting protesters in the streets. By midnight that night I was at Heathrow Airport, shoving 20,000 pounds down my boots, in my jacket. There was a limit of 10,000, and I just hadn’t read the paper.

So the next day I met up in Beirut with Marie and we started planning our trip into Homs. We knew the city was under siege. We’d been watching it streamed on the internet, and the journalists coming out were telling us it’s too much, it’s over for us. And Marie just laughed, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “It’s what we do.”

She’d once given a speech where she said we were there to bear witness, and she used the analogy that getting to the heart of any story was like peeling back the layers of an onion, and when you got to the core of the onion, that was the story, that was where you needed to be.

Two – Beirut, meeting the smugglers

We spent a few weeks in Beirut meeting up with representatives of the Free Syrian Army. They were the armed group opposing Assad, and they finally gave us a location and a time, and we had to meet up with a guy called ‘Beardy Man’, that was his name.

Two o’clock the next day in Starbucks we sat opposite Beardy Man and two other guys, and he has got a big beard, and he’s got his laptop out and he’s assessing us. By assessing, I mean he’s Googling us, reading Marie’s stories and looking at my pictures. And after a while he just leans back, gives a thumbs up, and goes, “You’re in.” We’d passed the Beardy Man test.

Three – The journey to the mountains

On a cold chilly morning in February the Free Syrian Army loaded us in to a rickety old van with other people, fare-paying passengers, and we began the drive north to Syria.

We were going in illegally. We had no visas. We’d both been banned from Syria years ago so it was hopeless. But our fixer, Lena, had been told by Lebanese intelligence in Beirut that any journalists found in the vicinity of Homs were to be executed, and their bodies were to be thrown onto the battlefield.

As we neared the mountains, a sense of doom kind of settled on both of us. We could hear explosions in the distance, and we knew too well that them explosions, the source of them explosions, were where we were headed, Syria.

Four – Crossing the border

We waited for hours in what was little more than a shepherd’s hut while the Free Syrian Army fed us big bowls of meat stew, which we sat there eating. Eventually at midnight they called us outside. “Stay close,” warned a shadowy figure, there are many soldiers.

So we spent the next hour tiptoeing through a deserted village, a minefield, around these army checkpoints, and all the time following the only visible sign of our guide, which was his white training shoes in the night. And as we skirted the army checkpoints, occasional shots rang out, but after an hour we were in Syria, we’d made it in.

Five – The road to Al Bueda

We travelled by car, van, motorbike, avoiding regime and Hezbollah checkpoints. It took about three days to travel 30 kilometers, as all the time the Syrian army hunted the press and the journalists with the same murderous intent. The regime were everywhere in Syria, there were no safe spaces.

Army vehicles patrolled the roads, and the checkpoints were random and often. Progress was painfully slow. We never undressed, we never took off our boots, and every night before we went to sleep we planned an escape route out into the olive groves.

Six – The tunnel from hell

In the middle of a cold wet field at midnight the FSA led us into a tunnel. It was actually a three foot high sewer drain, concrete, with no lights. There was very little air, and the heat build up was intense. The only way we could carry our kit was strapped to our chests, and because of the height of the tunnel we kind of had to walk bent double.

As we progressed down the tunnel we were passing people evacuating the wounded and the dying. This tunnel was a lifeline to Baba Amr, a small sunny neighborhood in Homs that was considered the beating heart of the revolution.

Everything came through this tunnel, some of it on the back of a motorcycle that burnt up precious oxygen for those on foot, and we carried on walking bent double for three miles. At the end of the tunnel they pulled us out into a warscape that was akin to one of Dante’s inner circles of hell.

As I looked around I could see the still smoldering skeletal remains of buildings, and it was all lit by the pale light of a full moon. We were driven at breakneck speed through a barrage of RPGs – that’s rocket propelled grenades – and heavy machine gun fire until we arrived drained and exhausted at the media centre.

The media centre was the source of all information coming out of Syria during the revolution. But the reality was, it was a three-story building. Inside there were twenty young Syrians, wrapped in blankets against the cold, all murmuring into Skype. The only light was the pale blue glow off their laptop screens.

Seven – The widow’s basement

While we were in Homs, we’d heard talk that there was a basement where all the women and the children who’d lost husbands and fathers were sheltered. It was one of the few shelters in Homs and it was known as The Widow’s Basement. The camera always affects people’s reactions when you pull one out, so I got Marie to go down first, and I sat at the top of the stairs with a long lens taking shots.

This picture captures exactly what Marie and I saw. This is the true face of the victims of war. This was our story. This was the core of the onion. Inside the basement one woman had given birth, but due to malnutrition she couldn’t breastfeed, so the baby was being fed on a mixture of sugar and water.

While Marie interviewed the tragic victims, I wandered round taking shots of the elderly, the children, and the dying. Wale our beloved translator, he heard of the death of one of his friends during one of Marie’s interviews, which was absolutely heartbreaking. But Marie shone. This is why we did what we did. These were the people who had the least control over their destiny in any war situation.

Eight – The field clinic

After the widow’s basement we ran to the field clinic. It was the run of death. Explosions ripped up the tarmac behind us as Assad’s gunners fired round after round of rocket and artillery fire. We arrived at the basement, ears ringing, nerves shredded, and they dragged us into the doorway.

We were greeted by Dr. Mohammed and a scene of absolute carnage. The dead and the dying filled up every gurney, every bed. The floor was awash with blood, and the medical staff dragged and stacked bodies anywhere they could find the space. They worked with first aid kits. There were no CT scanners or x-ray machines, just bandages and plasters of Paris. It was actually one of the worst places I’d been in any war zone.

Nine – Death and injury

On the 21st of February, both Marie and I agreed we weren’t going to get out alive, so we should do stories on BBC, CNN and Channel 4. Marie told the heartbreaking story of a young toddler who died of shrapnel wounds to the stomach, and the images went out to the world.

About midnight, not long after the interview, it was about midnight, there was a knock at the door, and I was like, “Who the hell is that?” We opened the door and there was three French journalists, Edith Bouvier, William Daniels and Remi Ochlik, and they’d just come in through the tunnel.

So the next morning, me and Marie woke up at 5am to go back to the field clinic. Before we left the building there were two almighty explosions, one 100 meters either side of the building and we waited 30 seconds, and then there were two more explosions, this time no more than 50 meters away.

I realized at that point in time what they were doing, they were bracketing, they were walking the shells in on the building. Thirty seconds later, the first shell hit the media centre. It destroyed the roof and the ceiling, and everything fell on top of us.

The second shell hit the back of the building where Marie and I had just been sleeping. That was destroyed. The third shell exploded somewhere in the building, and that filled the room with black acrid smoke and concrete dust. Seconds later, the fourth shell hit, killing Remi and Marie instantly.

I was still conscious, and I’d felt a pressure on my leg, so I leaned down to investigate, and as I touched my leg, my hand went through and came out the other side. And for a few moments I stood there wiggling my hand. I grabbed the artery inside to see if that was still intact. It was.

I grabbed the bone, that wasn’t broken, but I knew I had a few minutes to get a tourniquet on, otherwise I would bleed to death. So I grabbed the scarf from around my neck, wrapped it round, pulled it as tight as I could. But after a few minutes, I was still bleeding out.

I saw an ethernet cable in the rubble, so I grabbed that, wrapped that round, grabbed a piece of wood from the building, and pulled that as tight as I could. After about 20 minutes, the Free Syrian Army came, dragged me out of the rubble, and took me to the field clinic where Dr. Mohamed was stood there and he’s like, “Hello Paul, what’s wrong with you?”

And I’m going, “I’ve got a hole in my leg.” And he’s going, “Oh so you have.” So, Dr. Mohamed grabs a toothbrush and a bottle of iodine, and my leg is about that big, the hole, and he just pours iodine in with a toothbrush and spends 10 minutes scrubbing my leg.

And every time it nearly got clean, another shell had hit the building and concrete dust would fall in, so he’d have another go. And I was going, “Is that a toothbrush?” He’s going, “No, no, no, it’s a medical brush.” So eventually, he says, “We’ve run out of stitches.” And I was like, “Uh oh.” I said, “What are you going to use?”

He goes, “We’ve got this.” And he had an office staple gun. And I mean, he put about 40 staples into my leg, and there were no painkillers, so that was fun.

Ten – Born again

Myself, Edith, William, and Wale spent the next five days under heavy bombardment in an FSA safe house. It was the most intense artillery I’d ever known. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, they just bombed and hit that building. After six days, the FSA came in and said, “Paul, everything is gone.”

The water tanks on the roof had been hit, the food supplies had run out. And they said, “Whatever happens, we will take you out tonight.” They piled us into five different pickups, and throwing all caution to the wind, we just drove straight at the front line.

The Assad’s forces responded with mortars, rockets, sniper fire, and machine gun fire. And believe me, that was the trip from hell, we managed to get through. Miraculously, we made it to the tunnel, and they tied a rope around my waist and dropped me into this hole, and then they put me on the motorbike that we’d used to ferry supplies. So I thought, great, getting a lift out.

So we’re on the motorbike, going down the tunnel, and we get about three-quarters of the way down, and the motorbike stops, and I look up, and the tunnel is blocked. I thought, oh dear God, no. We got a torch, and you could just see at the very top of the blockage, they’d carved a mini tunnel about the size of someone’s head and shoulders through the blockage, and I was like, uh-oh.

So they picked me off the motorbike, and they pushed me up towards this hole. And there’s no lights. This is all in the dark. The only way I could do it was to put my hands in like that, and pull myself through this blockage.

I got about two meters in and stopped dead. What had happened is a piece of the steel reinforcing bar had gone in my leg and out the other side. And so now I was pinned inside a tunnel, in a tunnel. And they’re going, “Hurry up.”, and I’m going, “Okay.”

So I’m like that, and I know what I’ve got to do in my head. I know I have to rip that wound wide open and actually make it bigger in order to get it off this metal bar. So I gritted my teeth, bit my tongue, and spent five minutes making the hole in my leg a lot bigger.

Eventually, I did that, and I crawled another meter or so through this tunnel, in a tunnel, and I fell out the other side into a pool of mud, and I could feel the water swilling through my leg. “Whatever I say guys, put me on a piece of plastic.” And together, they carried me out. And finally, I escaped the tunnel.

For the next five days, I traveled across Syria on the back of a motorbike. They put some plasters on my leg. I don’t know what it was, but my leg was essentially hanging off. Drove across the tunnel on the back of a motorbike across Syria.

Occasionally, we stopped at farms that were friendly to the cause, but, you know, we never actually got to sleep. And against all odds, I made it to Beirut, where the British ambassador, Tom Fletcher, and his family welcomed me into their home.

Two days later, the Sunday Times arranged a medical evacuation. And I remember really clearly, I was at Beirut airport, we’d sneaked in with the SAS, and I’m on my wheelchair like that, and the British military attache walks over, and he’s like, he leans in, salutes, and in the poshest British voice, he goes, “I believe things got a little fruity out there, sir.” He was the master of British understatements.

So, I wrote this speech and rehearsed this speech in Kherson on the Ukrainian front line as the Russians were pulverizing the city. In fact, this is the first time, or second time, I’ve read it through without an explosion, so well done, Portugal. But Kherson exists in a state of terror. Where once there were 300,000 people, there are now 10,000 people, and the Russians are dismantling the city.

Every day, people crushed by the horror of war leave on the buses going out. But this is how we gather a story. It’s a long shot from grabbing a shot on a cell phone and posting it on Instagram.

We live in dangerous times where misinformation can directly affect events on the ground, and the need for objective, impartial journalism has never been greater. I think photojournalism still has the power to affect outcomes in war.

Why else would I be there?

But for a story to have true impact, you have to report from the scene, and not from a safe distance. So, once again, I’m back to shining lights in dark places, the haunts where despots and dictators like to operate. Once again, camera in hand, I’m back to peeling onions.

Thank you.

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David Litt on The Moth Mainstage at Royce Hall

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by David Litt, we hear a humorous tale about what it’s like to work in the White House, and to finally meet the President of the United States.

The details of the experience, both the settings and the conversations, give us a sense of what it must have felt like to work in the White House. But in a normal context that we can all relate to, it is also about wanting to excel in your career, while also dealing with imposter syndrome. We’ve all made blunders in our life, and looking back they can be much funnier than they were in the moment. You may have a story about an event that didn’t work as planned, but in hindsight, makes you laugh.


In 2008 I was one of those young people who became obsessed with Barack Obama. I was a senior in college at the time, and after I graduated I drove out to Ohio, and I worked on his campaign, and after the campaign I drove to Washington because – hope and change.

And two years later, the White House actually hired me. They hired me to write speeches. And people would hear about my new job and they would say, ‘wow, you must be really good’, and I’d say, ‘I don’t know, I hope so’. And they thought I was pretending to be humble but I was entirely sincere.

It’s not that I didn’t think I had any talent whatsoever, it’s just that I knew there are 300 million people in America, and some of them are babies, but a lot of them are adults, and it just seemed unlikely that I was the best ‘we the people’ could do. So everyday I walked through the gates of the White House absolutely sure somebody had made a mistake.

And while this was going on my friends and family were equally sure they now had direct access to the President of the United States. Like I’m sitting in my White House office, and I get a text from my sister Rebecca, and it says ‘how come the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have a mailing address?’

Now even in the best of circumstances this is a disturbing question to get from a family member, but if you work in the White House you want to know the answer to this kind of stuff, and I have no idea, and it’s like this with everything.

I mean suddenly everyone has a law that only I can get through Congress. Everybody has something wrong with Obamacare that I need to know about. Mostly, everybody has the same question. They all want to know – have you met him yet, have you met Obama yet – and I say no, I haven’t met him yet, and I get this look, and it’s a look I soon learn means, you may be 24 years old and working at the White House, but you’re still a disappointment to your family and friends. And I have to say I totally get it.

I mean everybody thinks that the White House is either like the TV show The West Wing where everyone’s hanging out with the President, or it’s like the TV show Scandal, where everyone’s having sex with the President. But if you’re looking for a Hollywood analogy, the White House is like the Death Star. What I mean by that is just that there’s thousands of people, they run around the hallways, they’re all just trying to make sure their little bit of their job works well.

And just because Darth Vader is the public face of the organization it doesn’t mean that every stormtrooper gets personal one-on-one time. So I try to explain this whole Death Star thing, and it doesn’t work, I still get that disappointed look. And frankly, nobody’s more disappointed than I am. I mean, nobody wants me to meet the president more than me. And there’s two reasons for this.

The first is kind of corny, but it’s true. I moved to Washington because I thought, I don’t know what it is, but there must be something I can do for my country. I want to be the kind of person where the President of the United States is just a little bit better at his job because I’m in the room.

And the second reason is I would really like Barack Obama and I to become best friends. And now I’m not saying that every White House staffer imagined that they would become buddies with the president. I’m just saying that none of us ruled it out. Like you would hear these stories you know somebody got a fist bump in the hallway, or someone else got invited up to play cards on Air Force One. And the moral was always the same. Any moment could be the moment that changes your life forever.

Now my first chance at a life-changing moment came in November 2011 when I was asked to write the Thanksgiving video address. I will say up front, if state of the union is all the way on one end of the presidential speechwriting spectrum, happy Thanksgiving America is kinda on the other side.

But as far as I was concerned, this was the most important set of words Barack Obama would ever say, and so I threw myself into this. I mean, I wrote, and I rewrote, and I made edits, and then I made edits to the edits, and finally the day of the taping came.

And I went to the diplomatic room which is one of the most beautiful rooms in the White House. It has this wraparound mural of 19th century American life. And the advice I always got was, you have to act like you’ve been there before. So I’m standing there, trying to act like I’ve been there before, and the woman behind the camera takes one look at me and goes, ‘this is your first time here isn’t it’, and I crack immediately. I’m just like, ‘yes I have never been here before, please help me.’

And she says, ‘don’t worry.’ She explains her name is Hope Hall, she films the president all the time, she’s gonna take care of everything. All I have to do is wait. So I wait, and I wait, and I wait, and I wait. And just when I’m wondering is this whole thing a nightmare, is it a practical joke, somebody gets an email on their blackberry, and they say, ‘okay he’s moving’, and then there’s kind of a crackling in the air, and a minute later President Obama enters the room.

And he’s standing up, so we all stand up. And he sits down, so we all sit down. And he looks at the camera to start taping when Hope stops him, and she says, ‘actually, Mr. President this is David. This is the first video he’s ever written for you’, and President Obama looks at me, and he says, ‘Oh, how’s it going David?’

I had exactly one thought in that moment. I did not realize we were going to have to answer questions. And I have literally no idea what I said after that. I mean, I actually blacked out. Like I went home for Thanksgiving and my family was like, ‘so have you met him yet?’

And I was like, ‘yeah.’

And they were like, ‘what did he say.’

I was like ‘how’s it going?’

And they were like, ‘what did you say.’

And I was like, ‘I don’t know, I blacked out.’

And I get that disappointed look. And I can’t blame anybody, because if I’m gonna be the kind of person who makes the president a little bit better at his job when I’m in the room, I am going to have to deal with questions more complicated than how’s it going.

And at the moment there’s no indication that I can do it. But I make a promise to myself. I say, if I ever get another shot at a life-changing moment I am not gonna let myself down. And I didn’t know if it would ever happen for me, but in fact, it happened just a couple weeks later.

I was sitting in my office. I got a phone call from the chief speechwriter at the time, a guy named Jon Favreau, and he called me up, and he said ‘Betty White is turning 90 years old, and NBC is doing this special where different famous people wish her a happy birthday in these 30-second skits, and you’re pretty funny, and no one else wants to do it. Want to give it a shot?’

And I said, ‘absolutely.’ And again, I understand the State of the Union is over here, and happy birthday Betty White is over there, but this was my Gettysburg Address. And so we had one week to make it perfect.

We started off. John and I came up with a joke for the president. We were gonna have him fill out a birthday card, and then while he was filling it out you would hear his voice on a voiceover say, ‘Dear Betty ,you’re so young and full of life I can’t believe you’re turning 90. In fact, I don’t believe it. Please send a copy of your long-form birth certificate to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.’

So we feel good about the joke ,but we still need a birthday card. So one day that week I go to CVS near the White House. It’s a half block away. I grab a birthday card that I think it’s gonna be pretty good. And then right when I’m about to leave, I realize we don’t actually need one birthday card, we need two identical birthday cards, because we have two different camera angles.

We don’t want anyone to know that the president has already written his birthday greeting. And I think, yes, this is how White House staffers are supposed to feel. I mean, I’ve saved the day. And so I walk back to that to that Hallmark rack and I get an identical card. And I ring it up, and I go back to my office, and I’m feeling really good.

And then the last thing we need, we need some way to end the video. And so what I come up with is, we’re gonna have the President put in headphones, and then he’ll listen to the theme song from the Golden Girls, which is Betty White’s most popular show.

So I find the perfect pair of headphones that go over the ear, they look great on camera, and I listen to the Golden Girls theme song on repeat just to get in the mood. And then finally, on Friday I get the call. Come on over. No here’s what they don’t tell you about having a meeting in the Oval Office.

When you have a meeting in the Oval Office, you do not just walk into the Oval Office. The first thing you do, you wait in this kind of windowless chamber. It’s a little like a doctor’s office, except instead of last year’s Marie Claire magazine, they have priceless pieces of American art.

And instead of a receptionist they have a man with a gun who in a worst case scenario is legally obligated to kill you. It turns out this little room is the perfect place to second-guess every life choice you have ever made. And so I’m sitting there with Hope Hall, the videographer, and I’m just thinking, do I remember how to explain the joke, are both of the birthday cards in there.

I check my pants pocket. Are the headphones still there. Are the headphones still there. Are the headphones still there. I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown when finally one of the president’s aides pokes her head out and says, ‘okay he’s ready for you go on in.’ To my credit, the first time I entered the Oval Office, I do not black out.

I can remember this very clearly. Right in front of me, I can see a painting of the Statue of Liberty that was done by Norman Rockwell that someone has told me is valued at 12 million dollars. And behind me, out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Emancipation Proclamation. Not a photocopy of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation.

And I can feel the message that this document is sending through the room. And that message is, ‘I’m here ’cause I freed the slaves, what are you doing here?’ And I look across the desk at the President, and I realize he may also be wondering what I’m doing here. But I feel great. I mean, I’ve spent an entire week just practicing how to explain this one joke to the President.

So I step up. I look at him. And I open my mouth. And what comes out is like I’m trying to ask for directions but in Spanish. Like the nouns and the verbs are there but there’s nothing in between them. I just say, ‘Betty White, video, NBC very funny, everybody laughs, está bien.’

And the President gives me kind of a confused look, and Hope, the videographer, jumps in and explains everything and rescues me, but I’m a little concerned, because I am here to show the President how professional I am, and in my professional opinion, we are not off to a great start.

Still, I’m not that worried, because I have that second birthday card in my pocket. And so I’m gonna get a chance to show President Obama how I saved the day. And as soon as Hope is finished filming, even I am surprised by how confident I sound when I walk up to the desk and I put my hand down and I say, Mr. President, I’m gonna need to take that birthday card and replace it with this identical birthday card because we don’t want anyone to know you’ve already written your birthday greeting.

And President Obama looks up at me and he says, ‘we’re filming this from all the way across the room?’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And he says, ‘so no one’s gonna see the inside of the card.’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And he says, ‘so I can just pretend to write in the card? We don’t actually need another one?’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And I put the card back in my pocket, and it’s strike two. But I’m not giving up yet, because I made that promise to myself, and besides, I really do feel good about the the ending with the headphones. And so the moment Hope is done filming her second camera angle I walk back up to the President, and I reach into my pocket, and I pull out what looks like a hairball made out of wires.

I don’t really know what happened. I guess somewhere in that waiting room I have just worried this thing into a hopeless tangle. And now I don’t know what to do, so I just hand the entire thing to the President the United States. Now, if you work in the White House, you will hear the phrase, there is no commodity on earth more valuable than a President’s time. Which I always thought was a cliche, until, I watched Barack Obama, untangle headphones, for 30 seconds, while looking directly at me.

And he untangles and untangles, and when he finishes he looks at Hope and just goes, ‘shoddy advanced work.’ And he does it in this way that lets you know that A. he’s only joking, and B. he is not even a tiny bit joking. And I’ll tell you, my heart just sinks. I mean, this was my third chance to make a second first impression on the President, and I let myself down. And all I want to do is get out of there.

And President Obama says something like, well would it be funnier if I bob my head in time to the music. And I say, ‘yeah that would be funnier’, but my heart isn’t in it. I mean, I know I don’t belong there, and the president looks into the camera to tape this final scene, and then suddenly he stops, and he says, ‘well wait a second, if I’m going to bob my head in time to the music, I need to know how the music goes.’

Does anyone here know the Golden Girls theme song? And President Obama looks at Hope. And Hope doesn’t say anything. So I look at Hope, and Hope doesn’t say anything. So President Obama looks at me. And suddenly I know exactly what I can do for my country.

And so I’m standing there in the Oval Office, with the Emancipation Proclamation right behind them, and I look our commander-in-chief in the eye, and I say, ‘bump bump bump bump thank you for being a friend, bump bump bump bump travel down the road and back again, something, something, you’re a pal and a confidant bump bump bump.’ But he looks kind of amused, so I keep going. So I’m like, ‘if you threw a party invited everyone you knew’, and that’s when he gives me a look that’s like okay, President’s time.

But it works.’ President Obama bobs his head in time to the music and Betty White gets her card, and NBC gets their special, and I leave the Oval Office that day with my head held high knowing that the President of the United States was just a tiny bit better at his job because I was in the room.

And people still ask me after that, they still say, have you met him yet, have you met Obama yet?’ And I can finally say, ‘yeah actually I have’, and then just to myself I think, not to brag or anything, but technically, I’m thankful he’s a friend.

Thank you very much.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

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