Journal

On Election Day

by | Oct 30, 2014 | Editorial

Election Day is fast-approaching. This election is what’s commonly known as “the midterms.” It’s been a difficult political season. Dire events are unfolding in the world. Control of Congress may be at stake.
It’s important for every adult citizen to become as informed as possible and to vote his or her conscience.

But there’s something even more important here, something too often lost in the political melee.

And so, a story. Thirty years ago. November 6, 1984. The incumbent, President Ronald Reagan, was running against Walter Mondale.

I had four children, the youngest just turning a year old. I was teaching parttime and had a housekeeper who was a political refugee from a war-torn country south of the border. She spoke no English but I, an English and Spanish teacher, speak fluent Spanish. It was my custom to take the baby with me when I drove the girls to school. Then I’d come home, play with him, put him down for his nap and go teach a few classes. But this morning was different. After driving the girls to school, I was going to vote. So I asked my housekeeper to play with the baby and put him down for his nap at the appointed time.

She then did something wholly unprecedented. She grabbed my arm and her eyes welled up.

“Please. Señora,” she begged me in Spanish. “Please don’t take the girls to school. Please don’t go to teach. Please, please, stay home today!”

I looked at her in astonishment. Why shouldn’t we go out? “Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

By now her tears were spilling out. “There’s an election today,” she said. “There’s going to be a revolution. They’ll be shooting people in the streets!” She was gripping my arm for dear life. She meant every word.

I put down my books and the child’s backpack I was carrying. We were all a little late that day. What on earth must this poor woman have been through, I wondered, as I gave her a brief civics lesson (in Spanish). I told her that I knew there was an election today, that I was going to vote. The whole country would vote today, I explained. The loser would concede defeat, probably late tonight. The winner would be inaugurated in January. If Mondale won, the two men would ride together in a limousine to the inauguration. Either way, the two candidates would shake hands, smile and part ways.

There might be some distress, some angry feelings. But there would be no shooting, no revolution. We fought our Revolution some 200 years ago, I explained, and we created the world’s first true democracy, the United States of America. And the mantle of power passes peacefully.

I told her she had nothing to worry about. She looked at me with doubt but faint hope, as if wondering if this could really be true. She finally let us go. I took the kids to school. Then I voted, as I do every year. My husband, I knew, had already been to the polling place on his way to work.

Ronald Reagan, as we all know, won a second term. Sometimes it’s a Republican, sometimes a Democrat. But the mantle passes peacefully.

As Election Day 2014 approaches, I find myself thinking back on that long-ago conversation. With all the rancor of our current politics, we often forget about what’s right about this country. Every day we see evidence of how much the world still experiences the change of power with bloodshed, as that poor woman did. But we are America, a beacon of light in a dark world. I pray we never forget that.

It’s important for every adult citizen to become as informed as possible and to vote his or her conscience.

But there’s something even more important here, something too often lost in the political melee.

And so, a story. Thirty years ago. November 6, 1984. The incumbent, President Ronald Reagan, was running against Walter Mondale.

I had four children, the youngest just turning a year old. I was teaching parttime and had a housekeeper who was a political refugee from a war-torn country south of the border. She spoke no English but I, an English and Spanish teacher, speak fluent Spanish. It was my custom to take the baby with me when I drove the girls to school. Then I’d come home, play with him, put him down for his nap and go teach a few classes. But this morning was different. After driving the girls to school, I was going to vote. So I asked my housekeeper to play with the baby and put him down for his nap at the appointed time.

She then did something wholly unprecedented. She grabbed my arm and her eyes welled up.

“Please. Señora,” she begged me in Spanish. “Please don’t take the girls to school. Please don’t go to teach. Please, please, stay home today!”

I looked at her in astonishment. Why shouldn’t we go out? “Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

By now her tears were spilling out. “There’s an election today,” she said. “There’s going to be a revolution. They’ll be shooting people in the streets!” She was gripping my arm for dear life. She meant every word.

I put down my books and the child’s backpack I was carrying. We were all a little late that day. What on earth must this poor woman have been through, I wondered, as I gave her a brief civics lesson (in Spanish). I told her that I knew there was an election today, that I was going to vote. The whole country would vote today, I explained. The loser would concede defeat, probably late tonight. The winner would be inaugurated in January. If Mondale won, the two men would ride together in a limousine to the inauguration. Either way, the two candidates would shake hands, smile and part ways.

There might be some distress, some angry feelings. But there would be no shooting, no revolution. We fought our Revolution some 200 years ago, I explained, and we created the world’s first true democracy, the United States of America. And the mantle of power passes peacefully.

I told her she had nothing to worry about. She looked at me with doubt but faint hope, as if wondering if this could really be true. She finally let us go. I took the kids to school. Then I voted, as I do every year. My husband, I knew, had already been to the polling place on his way to work.

Ronald Reagan, as we all know, won a second term. Sometimes it’s a Republican, sometimes a Democrat. But the mantle passes peacefully.

As Election Day 2014 approaches, I find myself thinking back on that long-ago conversation. With all the rancor of our current politics, we often forget about what’s right about this country. Every day we see evidence of how much the world still experiences the change of power with bloodshed, as that poor woman did. But we are America, a beacon of light in a dark world. I pray we never forget that.

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