I think I won’t, today, continue my usual Election Day tradition of posting the Walt Whitman poem about the Western World’s powerfulest scene and show, the choosing not the chosen, or good or ill humanity. It’s a lovely poem, and worth taking a moment to re-read it.
I think, today, I’m just going to ramble a little.
I voted this morning. I always vote, I almost always vote early, in accordance with the rabbinic teaching that we should rush to do mitzvot. And also because it’s convenient, and because our household tradition is now to go together to the polls and then out to breakfast. A good tradition.
It occurs to me today for the first time that my daughter, the Perfect Non-Reader of this Tohu Bohu, will be eligible to vote for the first time in 2019 and will, in November of that year, be most likely starting college, very likely in another state. It’s too bad—I would like to be with her for her first votes, watch the poll worker check off a third name from the list of registered voters at our house, and take her to celebratory breakfast afterward. Her first time accompanying us to the polling place was on the eleventh of September, 2001. She was less than two months old, in a front pack, and her parents were fiercely celebrating democracy as the rubble in Manhattan smoked. Now she’s nearly ready to vote on her own, marking a milestone on the journey from silence to participation. I would like to walk with her, but then, we always want to walk with our children as they mark milestones on their journeys, and the nature of it is that we can’t. Ah, well. My own first ballot was absentee, and was, if I remember correctly, in a primary election for candidates with no chance in the general.
Anyway. What I was thinking, today, was about the sense that I sometimes have that this business—voting—is something we are all doing together. I’m struggling to feel that today. Part of it, of course, is that this election is, for me, truly local: it’s the town council and the board of education, and that’s it. All the ballots are different, town to town, within my state, and then the other states are voting on entirely different things: governors in some places, state legislatures in some, initiatives or referenda, county officers or judges. All very important! But not communal. There is no final ballot-shower East to West, just the myriads of localities participating in their own self-governance.
A nation is made up of such things. They are not unconnected atoms but a mighty, er, not a molecule, look, I’m not really very good at chemistry metaphors, can I say that the elections may be individual letters but together they may make a sentence? Or do we already have too much of a sense that we are serving out such a sentence… my point is that we are, in point of fact, working together (albeit separately) at this work of national self-governance, but that alas today in the voting booth I did not feel my place in that mighty mass of America. I felt, at most, my paternal (if not, I hope unduly paternalistic) pride in our own household duty fulfilled. There was an absence there.
This next bit may not seem connected. Let’s see.
I followed a link today to an essay at Uncanny called The Shape of the Darkness As It Overtakes Us. It’s in the form of a letter from Dimas Ilaw to, well, Your Humble Blogger and y’all Gentle Readers and everyone else who perhaps reads or writes genre fiction. Speculative fiction, specifically. They write from the middle of a civil war in the Philippines, from danger and disaster and doubt, and they write to me, asking me to keep reading.
“I’m writing this for someone, I told her. They need to read it.
“Reader, I am writing this for you.
“I do not know if you are a Filipino; I do not know if you care about what is happening in the Philippines. I do not know what is happening in your own country or whether those you care about are safe. I don’t know your politics or whom you support or anything about you; all I know is that I have to tell you this.
“Your reading, too, is resistance.”
When Dimas Ilaw reached out to me, I felt that connection I had been missing. That cry from the heart, that essay full of awe and dread, demanded that I think of myself as both apart from and part of a thing happening on the other side of the world. And that, somehow, reconnected me to the rest of my country, as we separately vote for our different, overlapping, contrasting and contradictory futures.
We do what we can. We make little connections. Sometimes, we just pretend to make little connections. Sometimes that’s enough.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,