I voted two weeks ago. Because we have vote by mail in our state, my husband and I sat down together and studied each candidate. We completed our ballots conversationally. It was the first year we have not canceled one another out on a vote for an individual who is running for office or a particular initiative. In spite of that, in past years I remember the process being somewhat joyous. This year — not so much.
Voting has developed an underbelly. The tone across the republic is abrasive rather than patriotic. The atmosphere is charged and negative, fierce and fearful.
I decided I would look this feeling in the eye and honor my right to vote in a way I had not done previously by taking our ballots directly to the ballot-receiving receptacle in front of the elections office. It would have been easy to put a red, white and blue stamp on each envelope and place them in a pile on our kitchen counter together with other items bound for the post office, but I wanted a more thoughtful hand-off.
I drove to the ballot drop-box. There were a lot of cars in line. Most had pulled over closer to the curb and, in a queue rolling slowly, one by one drivers reached through their car windows to drop off their ballots. It surprised me — it was mid-afternoon, two weeks before election day and there was a lineup of more than a dozen cars. The line was so long it was affecting traffic. I decided to park in the nearby lot and walk over to the box to deposit our ballots.
As I did that, the last car in line (an old gray Chevy with an aging female driver) was pulling up. I stood and waited. She rolled down her driver-side window, bowed her head in prayer and made the sign of the cross. Then she dropped in her ballot. I was moved to tears.
I recall the words sometimes attributed to the 19th-century British politician Benjamin Disraeli, “A man who is not liberal at age 16 has no heart; a man who is not conservative at age 60 has no head.” I am, as the praying voter I witnessed appeared to be, a woman over age 60. I have both an enduring heart and a reasoning head. I also have heartache and not infrequent headache related to the unobliging and derisive political climate that seems to blanket this year’s political process.
Phrases like “can’t we all just get along?” come to mind a lot. The fact that the horrific synagogue killing in Pittsburgh last week was in the neighborhood where Fred Rogers resided — Mr. Roger’s neighborhood — haunts me.
I thought about all this in church the next Sunday. The hymn at the end of the service gave me strength — and hope. It went like this, “If we all said a prayer for each other every day, what a wonderful world this would be. I would ask God to bless you and keep you every day knowing you’d say the same prayer for me.” Amen.
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray is My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.