"So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend
Closing time -- every new beginning
Comes from some other beginning's end"

   -- Semisonic, "Closing Time"


May 20, 2000

Sitting Shiva
by Danny Concannon, Senior White House Press Correspondent
Special to The Washington Post

Two days ago, in Rosslyn, Virginia, three gunmen fired into a crowd of people. Their targets were a 20-year-old girl and her 22-year-old boyfriend. The gunmen's victims, however, were neither of those children. They were instead a Secret Service agent, a bystander named Stephanie Abbott, the President of the United States, and his Deputy Chief of Staff, Joshua Lyman.

Three of those victims walked away. One did not.

Those of us who knew Josh Lyman viewed him with mixed feelings at best. He was hostile, sarcastic, arrogant, hot-blooded in the pursuit of his White House duties. His enemies on Capital Hill were legion, his press briefings the stuff disasters are made of, his reputation that of "the President's attack dog" -- a sobriquet he wore with pride and strove to live up to.

But Josh Lyman was also a compassionate, driven man, committed to his friends, his administration and his country. He could alienate the press room in one ten-minute briefing, then clue in a reporter that the woman he was trying to date likes goldfish. He could tell a congressman to "stick his legislative agenda up his ass", then begin trying to work out a way to extend health care coverage to Americans still slipping through the cracks. He could spend half a day in a conference room tearing strips off of Republicans, then emerge to stride through the halls of the West Wing tossing wisecracks back and forth with his assistant.

There are no wisecracks in the West Wing today; his assistant, Donna Moss, is in Connecticut, sitting shiva with Josh's mother, with his friends. For seven days, they will sit in the house Josh Lyman grew up in. They will not work, or use the computer, or watch the television coverage of his death. They will share stories about him. They will remember him. They will mourn for him.

Here in Washington, the West Wing is a quiet place. People wander in and out of its halls as they do every day; the government doesn't stop even for death. But there is an energy missing, a focus that used to have the name 'Josh Lyman'. His presence is no longer hovering over us; not once today have we heard him bellow his assistant's name from somewhere across the building.

Reporters are supposed to remain objective, unbiased. But today, in this strangely silent office building, I look around me and see the signs of grief -- a press room filled not with phone calls and jokes, but only with the sound of fingers hitting keys, interspersed with long periods of silence.

The Press Secretary gives her briefings with a calm dignity that almost hides the redness of her eyes. The Deputy Communications Director moves with grim purpose between his office and his friend's, sharing with a tired, battered Chief of Staff the work that Josh Lyman would have done. The Communications Director provides the only noise, his shouts echoing through the halls as he focuses on finding a way to prevent Josh Lyman's death from ever happening again. The White House aides trail behind the senior staff and cover for their missing coworker, each of them pausing a moment as they pass by her desk, by his office, before they move on about their business.

The doors of the Oval Office are firmly closed, waiting for the return of its President. The Operations bullpen is filled with staffers struggling to carry on the tasks the Deputy Chief of Staff left unfinished. There is an empty desk where Donna Moss should be sitting, an empty office where her boss should be yelling for her. Where he never will again.

There were four victims of the Rosslyn shooting. Three of those victims walked away.

One did not.

And when Joshua Lyman died, when his arrogance and humor and stubborn dedication were taken from us by bullets fired in ignorance and hatred, we all joined the ranks of the Rosslyn victims. We all pay the price for Josh Lyman's death: for the work he left undone, for the things he will never accomplish. We all stand beside Adira Lyman and Donna Moss at his grave, and the world stands still around us, as if it, too, sits shiva for his loss.



Part 1
"an emptiness of flesh and bone"