A Good Day in America

Today is Election Day.  I am a democracy dork, so that makes it pretty special in my home.  As long as I can remember, I have been interested in the larger world and how politics impacts our little worlds.  I have fond memories of hanging on to my parents thighs as they waited in long, long lines to vote, my neck straining from looking up, trying to get a glimpse of all the adults above me, imagining all the important things they were doing.  I distinctly remember the metallic noise of the curtain closing behind my Mom and I as she entered her votes.  The curtains were blue and scratchy and the booth was small.  I liked being inside, as the mysteries of voting were a lot less mysterious in there.

We had spirited conversations at family dinners about what was happening in Washington, D.C. and Chicago and Springfield — the three capitals of politics that most impacted our day-to-day life.  As a young girl, I got caught in a melee when a classmate insisted she was allowed to actually vote with her parents.  I would have none of that fairy tale.  My little girl self knew the score.  No vote until you are 18.  Period.

Today, we woke about 6 AM.  Mary Tyler Son needed to be leaving for school by 8, so we opted to vote first and breakfast later.  All three of us walked to our polling place, a local synagogue.  I carried graham crackers and raisins for the boy to tide him over.  I was a little sad to see no line outside the door, as my Facebook friends in a few places had already described.  This was Mary Tyler Son’s first presidential election.  He knows who Barack Obama is and has identified Mitt Romney as Obama’s bodyguard.  Regardless of their position in his eyes, I love that my three year old knows both candidates’ names.

The last time I voted in a presidential election, Mary Tyler Son had yet to be born.  That bun was still in the oven.  I was nursing him by Inauguration Day, Donna still at my side.  A lot can change in an election cycle.  What hasn’t changed are the butterflies I feel, waiting for results, an all too familiar combination of hope and fear.

I am naive, you see, believing that yes, my vote does in fact matter, despite the fact that neither candidate has courted Illinois and that I live in a district where an incumbent runs unopposed in many of the more local races.  I don’t care.  The most important vote I cast today was for Mary Tyler Son’s future, that he too will grow up to honor and respect and feel grateful for the democracy he was blessed to have been born into.

Mad props to my parents who taught me well.  I am so grateful that they allowed their four year old daughter, little ‘ole me, to watch as Richard Nixon resigned.  I am so grateful that they kept me home from school on a warm day to go to the local high school to see President Carter in a town hall meeting.  Seeing Marine One land in the field where I had played a thousand afternoons was thrilling.  The Secret Service inspecting my school bag made me feel dangerous and important all at the same time.  I am so grateful to my parents who respected my 10 year old self enough to talk about their vote for John Anderson, the Independent candidate, in 1980.

All of those memories shaped the voter I am today.  All of those memories shape the voter I hope my son will be one day.  I hope I am teaching him as well as my parents taught me.  Only time and a few election cycles will tell.

Ballot Receipt

Governor Romney, Hope Matters

Let me preface this post by assuring you it is not a political entry, despite being inspired by the words of the current Republican presidential candidate.  I fully realize that the context of Governor Romney’s words pertained to his issues with President Obama’s stance on Mid East turmoil.  I am not writing about Mid East turmoil, or Republicans, or Democrats.  I am not writing about politics.  I am writing about hope, something I do a lot of around here.  Please do not view this post through a political lens.   

Yesterday, as I was prepping dinner, I was listening to NPR.  I turned the radio on mid-story, and heard a clip of Mitt Romney addressing the Virginia Military Institute.  “Hope is not a strategy,” is what I heard.  It was a bit like a slap in the face, as hope is my strategy.  Hope is what gets me through my days, you see.  On the bad days, I hope for better days, and on the good days, I hope for more — more joy, more life, more of the Good Things that keep me going.

Governor Romney, of course, was not discussing Cancer Moms and what they need to get through their day.  He was discussing foreign policy specific to the Middle East.  I know that.  The man is in the midst of the fight of his life and he is doing his best to connect with voters, appear presidential, and do what needs to be done to move in to that Oval Office come next January.  I get it, I do, but still, I was struck.

It made me think about hope and what it means to me, to you, to our world.  Merriam Webster’s online edition defines hope as, “to cherish a desire with anticipation,” or “to desire with expectation of obtainment,” or this, “to expect with confidence.”  Huh.  Not only do I not agree with Governor Romney on this, I don’t agree with Merriam Webster either.  Dictionary.com does better, “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.”  Still no cigar, but it is closer to my own definition of hope

In the midst of Donna’s illness, in June of her last summer, after we learned of the terminal nature of her cancer, my in-laws sent a book along to us.  Written by Jerome Groopman, M.D., it was called The Anatomy of Hope:  How People Prevail in the Face of Illness.  I picked it up with trepidation.  Self-help books are not my bag, and this looked suspiciously like a self-help book, complete with a single green leaf on the cover.  Yeah, I’m too cynical to do self-help. 

And I am absolutely one of those gals who judges a book by its cover.  I’ll look it over, but if the blurbs and first few paragraphs don’t grab me, I will put that sucker down.  This is the first paragraph of the Introduction to The Anatomy of Hope:

“Hope is one of our central emotions, but we are often at a loss when asked to define it.  Many of us confuse hope with optimism,  a prevailing attitude that “things turn out for the best.”  But hope differs from optimism.  Hope does not arise from being told to “think positively,” or from hearing an overly rosy forecast.  Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in unalloyed reality.  Although there is no uniform definition of hope, I found one that seemed to capture what my patients had taught me.  Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see – in the mind’s eye – a path to a better future.  Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along that path.  True hope has no room for delusion.”

At what, I hope, were the most devastating moments of my life, Dr. Groopman’s words spoke to me.  Choosing hope is not a pie in the sky venture.  It is not all lollipops and tutus and rainbows and ice cream.  It is stone, cold, hard work.  Work, people.  WORK.  Choosing hope, my personal strategy of choosing to be hopeful, does work for me.  Every day it works for me and every day I am grateful that I have hope in my life.  I see parents who have lost children to cancer who do not have hope.  They scare the bejesus out of me.  We bob along in the same ocean, those parents and I, but we are not in the same boat. 

I wrote a Facebook status about Romney’s words last night and one of my friends wrote the most profound response, “Dismissing hope can only be done by people who have never needed it to survive.”  I dare say this friend (yo, Amber) is right.  I will be the first to admit that I need hope.  I need it like I need oxygen, sunlight, and water.  Hope is necessary to my very existence these days and without it, I would be joining those other folks in the sad, bitter, angry boat.  I don’t want that for me, my husband, or my son.  I want better for us.  I want the joy that hope invites into my life, the possibility of a better future, the lightness of love and wonder and peace.  I want hope. 

So to you, Governor Romney, I say, “Hope IS a strategy.  And it works.  And we need more of it, all of us, to see us through these troubling times we find ourselves in.” 

I am Mary Tyler Mom and I approve this message.