And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
We had an election on Tuesday. It was a very different experience this time around. The political ads leading up to it were the same – vitriolic, mud-slinging, saying more about what the opponent would do wrong as opposed to what the candidate would do right. But the atmosphere was different. Not only was there a feeling of excitement and change, but there was an incredible uplift in commitment, responsibility, and belief that voices should be raised and heard.
For the first time in my memory, I had trouble finding a parking spot at my polling place. For the first time, I had to stand in line, and the room I was going into was set up in corrals, putting us in the correct line for our ward. For the first time, I had to wait, to receive my ballot, stand in line again for an open booth, AND stand in line to insert my ballot into the machine.
I don’t know about other places, but in my polling place, people were patient. We smiled at each other. There wasn’t any snarling, no glaring at what we were wearing or weren’t wearing (at the presidential election in 2016, I wore a Hillary shirt – before I left for the parking lot, I zipped up my jacket because of the glares and whispered comments I received).
This was probably the most positive voting experience I’ve ever had. And there was one more thing that made this particularly special – my newly 18-year old daughter, Olivia, was voting.
I remember the first time I voted. I was 18 and a freshman at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. My polling place was in an old church. I walked into my booth and yanked on a creaking handle that snapped a blue curtain shut behind me, leaving only my sneakers and the ragged ends of my jeans available for view. The booth was filled with rows of levers that I had to pull to say who I was voting for. I gazed wonderingly at these for a bit – I’d never seen such a thing. And then I saw the names. I only recognized a few. I really had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I only had the vague sense that this was something that I should be doing, now that I was 18 years old. So I pulled levers. I thought it was fun. And then I went back to my room. I don’t think I even paid attention to the results that night.
Hoo boy. Things have changed.
Now, I have an 18-year old. She’s my fourth 18-year old, actually. When the shootings occurred in Florida last February and so many teenagers stood up and said, “Get ready. We’re voting in the next election,” she took notice. She told me she couldn’t wait.
A month or so before the election, she told me she was worried. “What if I vote for the wrong person?”
So we talked about that. Olivia decided to ignore the political ads on television and to ignore the chatter going on around her at school. Instead, she went to the website of each and every person running. She read what they said. She weighed and measured. She thought and considered. And when she followed us into the polling place on Tuesday, she was ready.
Now remember – this is the child who wasn’t ever supposed to be able to speak. She was nonverbal until she was three years old.
As I waited for an available booth, I watched as my daughter stepped forward, on her own. She gave the appropriate information, handed over her ID, signed her name, took her ballot. She smiled the whole time.
I waited some more by the exit, watching her at the booth as she stood with one toe popped in her black sneakers, her back curved as she studied the ballot, making sure she read everything carefully. Then over to the ballot-eating machine, and she fetched her sticker, and she walked to me, beaming the whole way.
She smiled out to the car with that sense of having done something she was supposed to do, just as I did, way back in 1978. But she also smiled with the knowledge that it was her right to raise her voice, that it was a gift. She also smiled because she knew her decisions were knowledge-based, brain-based, heart-based. She researched, she deliberated, she decided.
I realized then what I was feeling, on this election day, that made it so very different.
Hope. I didn’t just raise my voice; my hope rose through the roof.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.