I am not proud of the anger I put into my heart when I set out on my morning run on October 27th. The first day of early voting saw me determined to make a statement to myself and the world – in whatever symbolic, poorly thought-out way I could – that I didn’t just want change, I demanded it. After four years of brooding, four years of watching what I cared for dragged through the mud and people like me made to suffer the slings and arrows of those who claim they are free from hate or blemish, I was ready to vote.
To do so, I demanded a sacrifice from my body. I demanded my joints and my tendons to feel each hard footfall on the asphalt and each struggling shortness of oxygen in my muscles as I traveled the 6.5 miles to and the 6.5 miles back from the polling place. I wanted to show the world this is what it means to stand for something, and this is what it means to never take something for granted. I thought, and maybe some would agree, that it was the kind of act of romanticism and protest that would have made those who had once actually fought for voting rights proud.
I expected the pain of the run to reverberate as my body cooled down while waiting in line. I expect the cautious looks of last-minute campaigners holding signs and old folks waiting in line alike. I even expected the angry rebuttals by those who disagreed with me to come full force once I explained my position.
I received none of what I expected and all of what I never expected; a feeling of patriotism and good will towards my fellow men and women that found itself not only refreshingly nonpartisan, but altogether uplifting.
I do not consider myself a political person. I feel strongly in support of one party and disapprove the direction another has taken, but I do not like to interact with people on a political level. Standing at the polling place, flanked by individuals of different races, ages, and genders, I was reminder of why I don’t like interacting with people on a political level.
It’s because of the Orioles. Because of the Kindle Fire HD and the IPhone. It’s because of the guy who spent time as a defense contractor and the Virginia Tech students mulling what they had at Burger King the night before. It’s because of the old guy who visits the new county library each day, marveling at the use of his tax dollars even as protesters hold signs telling us what we don’t want our dollars going towards. It’s because of old friends spotted in line, and a chance encounter that turns into a half-hour run and a new friend on the way back. It is, it always has been, about people and their interests, lives, passions, and yes, just stuff about nothing. The smiles we neighbors wear when we take a second to admire a crisp, cool fall day before a coming storm — a literal storm — and taking the chance to talk to a stranger about what some might say is nothing at all.
I put hate into my heart when I started my run because of the spectrum of anthems of ads and talking heads, headlines and soundbites, which I have heard and reheard for what seems like forever. But when I went out to exercise that hate, to make a statement of my discontent to the world, I found myself completely and ironically content with it and it’s people. Standing in line and chatting with folks — good, honest, I have no-idea what their party affiliation was folks — I couldn’t be angry or upset no matter how hard I tried.
The experience did not cause me to change who and what I voted for. It will not stop me from feeling strongly in support of what I hope is a new administration in Washington. But that day does change the way I view the house across the street. The one with signs for the incumbent I have long expressed anger and even hatred for. It reminded me, as experiences with real, in-the-flesh people often do, that we as human beings are more than just the sum of our political beliefs. That those in and outside are community can interact or break bread or just hang out without ever having to discuss the things which divide us.
After I voted a funny thing happened. Starting back proud but slowly on tired legs, I was passed by a man with greying hair and a stride that would have made my 18-year old self feel jealous. He looked back and me and made some kind of joke about my speed, then slowed down as I sped up to catch him. One thing led to another, and we were suddenly running together, talking like old friends. He told me about his family, I told him about my job and how great it felt to get a day outside after spending all week cooped up in the office. We didn’t speak of politics or voting at all — another reminder, however subtle, that the world turns on and will continue to turn on despite whatever differences we may or may not have.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my day at the polls, and thinking about how it relates to this Tuesday. For many of us — for half the country, in fact — it will likely be a day that depresses and angers us. But it won’t be our last day, and for that, we’re blessed. My appeal, my prayer for all of us, is that on this election day we take some time to distance ourselves from the noise, to frame ourselves and our neighbors outside of the their votes and their campaign signs.
And my hope is that we don’t just do those things this Tuesday, but on each and every day of the four years down the road.