I Love You, Fellow Citizens (Election 2016)

Monday night my kids trick-or-treated in an idyllic, innocent, classic style. It was a quiet and festive neighborhood with old growth trees looming tall and costumed kids running through wide lawns, joking around and asking for candy. All kinds of people opened their doors to my kids, generously pouring on the treats and small toys. I got a little choked up.

We saw black people, white people, brown people, young people, very old people, skinny people, fat people, cheerful people, and crotchety people. I saw people in sexy costumes, and women in hijab.

This one guy had a really rough front porch, the kind that might snag your clothes if you bump into the hand rail. Rather than opening the door, he slid open a window with no screen, and passed out candy from there. He had a long mustache and wore a baseball cap. Behind him sat another man with a thick, unruly beard sprawling in a low easy chair facing the open window. The host spoke in a wide drawl. He told my son to take more candy.

I walked away, and tears welled in my eyes. I wondered if he and I would vote for the same candidate. And how about the other houses? Surely they represented a range of political opinions and levels of participation, people who would vote in all kinds of ways (I’m assuming this year there will be some write-ins), or not vote at all.

I had an immediate affinity for this man, for every single person I met that night. On that night, nothing divided us. Everyone was all smiles.

I’m grateful to every stranger who opened their door to us this Halloween. What a great night of unbridled fun and easy community.

I can’t remember when I’ve felt simultaneously so emotional and so intellectually clear. Election 2016 seems like a storm. I feel like a tiny wooden shack on the beach during a hurricane, beaten and weathered. Do you? I know the election will end. But I worry about the lingering damage.

What will happen after the election? I’m concerned about the vitriol, hate, and ugliness this presidential race has stirred up. I’m deeply concerned about the undemocratic, wild card suggestions flying through the air.

It’s important how we vote and behave. There are big consequences. We know every candidate has flaws. Our country has problems that might seem insurmountable. So thinking about the race can seem overwhelming.

There’s also the feeling that there’s more at stake than policy. The world has endured bloody wars, genocide, and all manner of tragedy, mishap, and injustice while good people actively or silently played a role in bringing each devastating authoritarian leader to power. History judges us.

Despite all this concern, there’s a voice inside me that speaks up sometimes and says, “this world is temporary;” “everything we see is a construct;” “stay present. Focus on love.” I like this voice. It isn’t escapism exactly. It’s a dose of temperance at the least, and may represent reality at best.

I know dear friends on the opposite side of the fence (from me). Dear family members too. I love them. I can’t disagree with them more. I still love them.

I see people I know and have enjoyed being around, even admired for many reasons, lashing out on Facebook against my candidate. Sometimes the posts go beyond policy debate and sound more like hate speech, insensibility, and violence. I’ve read the articles they post. I’ve watched the videos they share. They may hate my candidate. They may not be able to understand my side at all. We might not even be able to have a productive discussion about politics. Even though I disagree with them, still, I’m full of warm and fuzzies for them right now. I have the impulse to give everybody a hug.

I know it might sound simplistic. But we have to take a step back, and count our blessings. We need to love and value each other.

When I hear people from the other side talking, I know them as whole people, not just political actors. On facebook, I don’t see messages flashing across my screen. I see people reaching out, venting, expressing themselves.

This race has shown us that there are deep issues in our country, and many people feel like the government doesn’t work for them. We need to listen to a range of voices. Folks from every angle have valid concerns that need to be addressed. The solutions are not always simple or clear. We have to keep working together.

I love this country. I love the unique individuals who are speaking out on all sides, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

If you’re reading this, then probably I know you personally. I care about you. Each of us has value.

I’m saying this before the election, with the race neck-in-neck, not sure who will win. I don’t know what’s going to happen. No matter what, let’s still love and respect each other. No matter who we vote for, this is our country. We are in this together.

I’m so grateful for my excellent neighbors. I’m grateful for the neighbor who showed up with wine and popsicles on the scorching hot day we moved in. I’m grateful for the neighbor who handed my son a bag of box tops, because she wanted to support his school. I’m grateful for the neighbor who texted me that my son forgot his glasses, and then held the bus while he ran back and got them. I’m grateful for the moms and dads who are always, always at the bus stop–my kids are safer because they are there. I’m grateful for the neighbors who answered the door and cheerfully piled on candy, even when we came home late from trick-or-treating somewhere else. I’m grateful for my neighbors who invited me to a presidential-themed Halloween party, where I met interesting people, laughed very hard, and got to wear mustaches over my eyebrows (as Michael Dukakis). I’m grateful to the woman who lived in my house before me, and has been a wealth of warmth, information, and good connections.

Hi, I'm Michael DukakisThese neighbors are new to me. I’ve only lived here a few months. I doubt we’ll all vote for the same candidate. But still. I’m so damned grateful: We have each other.

I could go on and on about my family, and my long-time friends, too.

We’re all still Americans together. We are a solid bunch. We are interesting. We are textured. We are colorful. We are diverse. We are resilient. We are bold. We are generous. We are strong. Yes, we can laugh at ourselves. Yes, we can believe in ourselves. Yes, yes, yes.

I feel implicated in the outcome, no matter who is elected. We are all creating this world, each moment, together. What kind of world am I creating for my daughter? For my son?

Twenty years from now, this race’s particular talking points may seem like a foggy dream. I’m more concerned about how we feel about each other as fellow citizens, and how we act towards each other. Are we still loving, do we still work together, even when we don’t agree?

Here’s my pledge to you: even if you vote for a different candidate than I do, I will still be your friend. I will still cherish our shared community. I will still root for you. I will still do my best, and I hope that makes our world together a better place. I will still be your good neighbor. Dare I say, I will love you.

Is “love” is too strong a word? Despite our differences, I’m enamored with all my fellow citizens right now. I know and love so many people all sides of the race. I have decided on a candidate. I’m voting. I’m moving forward. And I’m cheering for all of us.

Plus! Here’s another reason this election makes me cry! I know I’m leaving the country soon. In just a few months, I could be gone for several years. I’ve lived abroad before, so I have some idea of how it feels to miss the familiar, whatever is home.

Of course I’m concerned about how our new president and his or her policies will affect my family abroad. But politics aren’t the whole story. I want to bottle this feeling of gratitude, connection, and happy familiarity with great neighbors, dear friends, cherished family.

We are all connected, far more connected than we realize. Underneath the media, underneath the arguments, underneath our varied agendas, underneath our plans and opinions, in conjunction with our diversity, regardless of our wealth or poverty of means or spirit, we are one people. We share common interests. We do have common goals. We live a common life together.

I am grateful for peace. I’m grateful for democracy. I’m grateful for being fellow citizens with you.


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