Election day, 2016

Early voting is allowed in South Dakota and I have read that there are large numbers of people who have taken advantage of that opportunity. I, however, have chosen to wait until today to cast my ballot. I like the process of going to the fire station near my home, standing in line with people from my neighborhood, greeting the poll workers who are my neighbors, and casting my ballot in the temporary booths set up around the room. It is the same room where my mother voted towards the end of her life after she moved to our home and registered to vote in our state. It is the same place that I have cast my ballot in every election since I moved here 21 years ago. (Actually I did vote early once at the court house when I had to be away from town on election day.)

The process gives me a sense of connection with the other citizens of my country. Not that connection means unity. I don’t often vote with the majority in my community. My political opinions often differ from those of my neighbors. Still, it is a good feeling to be a part of participatory democracy and to vote my conscience. I’ve studied the sample ballot. I’ve listened to the voices of the campaign and now I am ready.

It has been a particularly grueling and nasty campaign. The tone and mood that has infused the presidential race has been reflected in the rhetoric of more local races and the ardent enthusiasm of some of the supporters has made usual conversation difficult in some places.

Now that election day has arrived, it is important for our great country to get on with the work that lies ahead of us.

First, a story that I read about a moment much earlier in the campaign. Nick Bryant, New York correspondent for BBC news tells of traveling with Ohio Governor John Kasich when he was a contender for the Republican nomination for president. The campaign was stopped in Michigan. Kasich implored his aids and the reporters who were traveling with them, to take their eyes off of their smart phones and other devices and look around them.

It is advice that I would like to pass on to my fellow citizens today. As we look around to discern the mood of our nation in the days after the election, I pray that we might not rely too heavily on social media and instead look into the eyes of our neighbors. If we listen to one another instead of whoever is most prolific on Facebook or Twitter we will gain an important perspective on the true nature of our community. It is a simple fact that the landscape of the United States and the people of our country are far more intriguing, wonderful and beautiful than is portrayed by the media. Those loud, yelling crowds are made up of individuals with thoughts, feelings, aspirations and ideas that are unique and wonderful. Those individuals are worthy of our time and attention. And, quite frankly, they are more intelligent and more thoughtful than the mindless messages they pass on in social media.

Recently I was talking to my son about a trip he will take next week from his home in Olympia, Washington to a meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. We spoke of the challenge of navigating so many time zones and needing to be fresh and energetic for the meetings. When you travel from west to east the day gets compacted. Evening arrives hours before you expect it. You crawl into bed before you are sleepy and the alarm goes off the next morning so early it surprises you. On the trip back home the day seems impossibly long. The flight takes nearly the same amount of time, but it seems like such a long time since you woke and began your day. I recalled a time when I served on a committee engaged in the search for the general minister and president of our denomination. The committee met in Baltimore, Maryland. I remembered the challenge of travel days. I suggested to my son that he request a window seat on the airline. Not only do you get to witness the change in daylight as you travel, you also get to look down on the nation as you pass over it. Even if you are traveling at night you can see the lights of cities passing below you and get a sense of the scope of this nation. On his eastward journey he will take off over the magnificent cascade mountains and be able to see the rockies beneath the airplane if the weather is clear. He should notice the great lakes and other large geographical features.

And he will notice the cities. It will be unescapable as he rides from the airport around the beltway of the Washington, DC area. There are a lot of people in that part of the world. Outside of four years of graduate school, when we lived in Chicago, I have spent my life in places that are more rural and more remote than the great cities of our land. But it is important for me to make a regular practice of paying attention and remembering that those cities aren’t just blocks of red and blue that make up an electoral map. They are the places of homes of millions of individual people and each of those persons has to make their way in this life, discovering how to obtain the essentials of food and shelter and healthcare, forging their own meanings and finding their own relevance in the midst of a nation of many other people.

Together we have to learn to live with one another.

Outside of this blog, I plan to stay away from social media for the most part for the next few weeks. I’m not that active in those arenas anyway. Instead, I hope to talk with and listen to the people in my community. This much I know: This country is far more beautiful that the current election cycle and its people are far better than what we have witnessed in social media. I’ll be looking for that beauty and goodness.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!