Dark Days


Mornings are dark now. I wake and the sun has not risen. Soon the darkest days will be here. Should I rise and head out into the world when the light cannot be seen? When darkness tucks itself into shrubs and flows over the river and settles on the frosted meadow?  The coming solstice is a time to celebrate the return of light. These days, I am not so hopeful.

In the wee hours of November 9th I checked the news. Then I deleted a few news apps from my phone, the tool I have used to get most of my news. I needed a break from news. I have since then read little, listened little, watched little. I just couldn’t handle it. For my mental health I had to leave the broader world behind for a bit.

In the past I have been disappointed, even surprised, at election results. I have been on the losing side and figured things wouldn’t go the way I would like for a little while. A bummer, but that’s politics. Sometimes you just don’t win. But I always had faith in the process. I had faith in my country. I tend to believe people are good, whether at the voting booth or on the street. Sure, people make bad choices sometimes. We all do. But overall I have believed in the collective good. My faith has been shaken now. This election was not just about a “difference of opinion” but about deciding who we are as a nation. I am struck by what I see.

It is not easy to write when I do not know who will read what I write. I am tired of the demonizing of the “other” or those on the “other side” due to conflicting beliefs. I am happy to disagree with someone if we can try to understand each other. That makes for healthy communities. I don’t want everyone to think the same way. We need to pool all ideas to come up with a few good ones. But now I am not so sure it is even safe to say what I feel.

Our president-elect has done things that are blatantly immoral, unethical, even cruel, and he has accused others of those same trespasses. He has lied and lied and then called his opponents liars. He represents all that is mean and spiteful and selfish. I believe that kindness matters more than most things. Perhaps it is the most important thing. Yet I have seen no kindness from the man who will be our nation’s leader.

I understand why others sought someone who challenged the current order, why change seems necessary to so many, why the circumstances of so many people in the United States are not what they could be. I understand the appeal of someone who seems to speak frankly, who speaks differently, who says things so many people have wanted to say but felt they could not. I get it. But this is not the guy to bring that kind of change.

He will bring change, I have no doubt. But a man whose goal is his own glory will not bring the change we need to make this nation or the world or neighborhoods or communities better places to live. He will bring the kind of change that my children’s generation will have to spend decades trying to fix. We can disagree on how to make positive change. I welcome that. If we disagree on the solution it means we are asking the same question, that we are seeing the problem together. I have no faith that our president-elect has any idea what questions to ask. I have no faith that he believes in the value of asking questions at all.

I say all this taking the risk that you might read this, find yourself disagreeing, and toss slings and arrows my way. So be it. When the days get dark, we need to believe that light will return. This is my candle. Lighting a candle in the darkness can bring hope. It makes one visible, perhaps vulnerable, perhaps a target. But right now, I need hope. I want to believe there are others out there who are willing to light their own candles. I want my nation to be one that celebrates tolerance and kindness. A little light would help right now.

I have been unsure how to approach this space. I could not simply pretend that all is well, that I live in a place untouched by the rest of the nation or the world. I could not write simply about the beauty of falling snow or the glow of the frost in the morning or the smell of fresh bread. I will write about those things because we need them, because we need to see the wonder that surrounds us every day, because those kinds of things make life meaningful. I needed to acknowledge, however, that there is some darkness behind those things now. I can only trust that the days will get longer, that one day spring will arrive again.

Staying Up Late to Watch History

I had a busy day today and I knew I would have to get up early, but I love election night.  I always feel excited about watching what is happing across the nation.  OK, I understand I am not really watching what is happening right then, just the prediction of the summary of what happened throughout the day, but still, it is exciting and I like to watch it unfold.

Any election is somewhat historic.  It marks a transition of power that unlike so many in the world, is peaceful and (for the most part) fair.  Aside from attempts to keep people from registering to vote, most adults can register and then vote.  That in itself is pretty amazing.  This election was certainly the most historic in my lifetime.  Barack Obama came from a modest background to be elected president of the most wealthy and powerful nation in earth.  Not bad.

I watched Fox News throughout the night because that is the only channel we get that does not have a double image or simply fuzz.  We do not have cable or a satellite dish (why pay at least $30 per month to get a few channels we want and 40 we don’t?) so we make do with what we can receive.  We get our news from The New Yorker, Mother Jones, The New York Times and lots of online sources.  Television news usually doesn’t make the cut in terms of quality or quantity.

But last night I wanted to watch, to see things unfold with sound and pictures.  I was glad I did.  I was skeptical of the Fox News coverage, which seemed to be focused on being the first to report who won each state.  At every milestone they would call a winner for several states.  At 10:00 they were calling the winner in states where polls had just closed.  Literally no results were officially in and they were predicting a winner for the presidential race.  It was hard to believe.  Remember Florida?

At 11:00, right when polls closed on the west coast, and with two states’ polling places still open, they announced Barack Obama the winner.  I was at first, again, skeptical but soon understood that I no longer had to wonder if this man would pull it off.  He did.  And come January, we will have our first president to break through the color barrier.   That is one for the history books.  I had considered going to bed once I heard a result, but I realized I needed to be a witness, in the moment, to history.

That is plenty to celebrate, but Obama’s speech made me cry.  He was humble and honest and inspiring, not because he turned out the usual political jargon, but because he understood that this moment is only partly about him.  It is about this nation and what we have the potential to become.  It is about moving forward in a new and positive way.  He showed in that speech that he understands that we need to make sacrifices and that we all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We can’t sit back and wait for him to do it.  We need to be the change agents ourselves.  I was moved that he said that this is really just the opportunity, the chance to change things.  His election is not change.  We need to make that happen.

He inherits some damaged goods.  I can’t imagine doing the amount of work he will need to do to begin the process of healing the wounds of divisiveness we have faced internally and to create a new image of the United States in the world.  i was dumbfounded when George W. Bush was elected the first time.  i couldn’t even believe he had become the nominee.  I was doubly baffled when he was elected to a second term.  We got what we chose, and I hope enough of us can see that now.  We have work to do and I believe our new president can see much of what needs to be done.  Whether we can really get it done, well, that is up to you and me.

Voting Day

I have been looking forward to voting and, like thousands of other Vermonters, and millions of other United States citizens, I did so today. I made sure to have the car with four wheel drive so I could take the back way to the polls. Like everywhere else, high turnout was expected here in Hinseburg, and I wanted to avoid a line of traffic on Route 116. So I went the bumpy way.

I brought my daughter with me. She got off the bus and then we waited about an hour before we left. She needed a snack and a break before we headed out. I was excited to vote and was itching to get out there but I was patient. My morning was too busy to get to the town hall to vote so I had planned on doing so in the afternoon. That meant my daughter could come along.

There was plenty of parking in the lot below the town hall and the place was not busy. As we walked in, I overheard one of the poll workers tell a voter that she “must be special,” joking, because she got to go to the Chittenden 1-2 district table to get her ballot. I went in an noted that I must be special as well. Here was the irony: a small fraction of voters are in my district but I had to wait behind one person while no one was getting a ballot from the five poll workers for Chittenden 1-1.

It was not a long wait. My daughter and I found a booth (open, no curtain here, but private enough) and I marked my ballot. I was proud to be able to vote across parties for local races. i voted for Barack Obama (as I write the New York Times reports that so far 66% of Vermonters voted for Obama–not bad for the whitest state in the union) and it felt great to finally be able to fill in that oval. I also voted for my former state representative, Gaye Symington, for governor, although she has had little chance of winning.

My daughter fed the ballot into the electronic scanner and we each took an “I Voted” sticker. We got a couple of donut holes (she made sure to take one for her brother, who we were headed to pick up after leaving the town hall–I love her for that kind of thing), thanked the poll workers, and headed back out. The whole process took all of ten minutes. There was a line of traffic heading into town as we left town but we skirted that problem.

My daughter asked me later who the first president was as well as who “the last” president was. She asked me more about his last president. What could I say? I just told her that some people are good at their jobs and some people are not and that he was not all that good at his. We talked about that for a few minutes, with me struggling to explain national politics to a child whose first experience was a mock election at school today. I am sure we will have more such conversations.

It looks like a good bet that my children will remember Barack Obama as the first president of their lives. That is historical and powerful. It is amazing. And I am happy to be part of it.

Election Eve

Tomorrow is voting day.  It is a day to which I look forward in general.  Tomorrow will be an exciting one.  Lots of people will be voting and it promises to be an event at any time of the day.  Many Vermonters have voted early, including my wife, but I have been waiting for election day.  I want to be a part of the ceremony.

Voting in Hinesburg is an experience that makes me feel part of the place.  There are two districts here, the first of which consists of almost all of the town (Chittenden 1-1), and then mine, which consists our our house plus a handful of others (Chittenden 1-2).  We share a district with Charlotte in some weird districting.  There are 3,137 voters in town as of the end of January but only “a couple of hundred Hinesburg voters in Chittenden 1-2.”

What this means for Hinesburg voters is that for one race for state senate, there are different candidates.  Otherwise the ballots are the same.  What this means for this Hinesburg voter is that I get to go to a separate table where is no line.  It is like the frequent flier business class check-in for voting.

So tomorrow I will vote mid-afternoon, not the morning rush and not the evening rush.  Hopefully things will go smoothly and I will be on my way.  I am hoping there will be some donuts left and that my daughter, who will come with me to see democracy in action and all that, will have the patience after school to bear with it.  I plan to take the back way on the class four road to avoid possible traffic.  That may not be necessary but it will be fun anyway.

I can’t wait to vote.  It feels great.  Voting is not just a privilege but a duty.  Many people do not see it that way, I know, but I want to show my daughter that not only is it the right thing to do, but if you time it right, you might meet some neighbors and even get a donut.  Not that democratic duty should mean donuts, but if that helps her remember it, I’m good.

I hope you get out and vote yourself.  If you can, you should.  Otherwise you are a slacker, and I will tolerate no complaining about any elected officials.  Even if you voted for the other candidate.