Several decades ago, I waddled into a voting booth at the local library to cast my first vote in a state election. My labor pains had started hours before the polls opened, but I insisted we wait until I had a chance to vote. It was a risky move, since this was our second child, which should go faster than the first.
(Yes, I had married and given birth before I was even old enough to vote. Don’t judge me. The threshold was twenty-one in those days. Boys went to war at eighteen.)
I hadn’t been interested in politics before. But a cattle rancher named Jerry Litton had come out of small-town Missouri to take on the corrupt political establishment of our day. It was America’s bicentennial year, and patriotism was popular for the first time since the Viet Nam War.
Despite my labor pains, I was determined to mark my ballot for the man who raised Charolais cattle, shook hands with small children, and somehow personified our hopes for the future. Both my husband and my mother suggested I forgo duty to country in favor of making it to the hospital on time. The blue-haired ladies handing out ballots seemed to agree. They rushed me through the process of marking an “x” beside the name of a man whose platform and party I no longer recall.
We made it to the hospital a full two hours before our perfect daughter arrived. Just before daylight, a nurse roused me and slapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm. As she jabbed the thermometer under my tongue, she said, “Sure was too bad about Jerry Litton, wasn’t it?
“Oh, did he lose?”
She whipped off the cuff and scribbled on a pad. “No, he won. But on the way to the victory party his plane crashed. Killed him and his whole family. What a shame.” She rescued the thermometer before it snapped between my teeth and then breezed out the door, leaving me alone in the dark with my after-birth pains and the horror that washed over me.
I had felt this terror before, but it took a few minutes for me to remember when. And, when I remembered, I could barely separate my eight-year-old self from the self who had just given birth.
Mrs. Lowery had interrupted my second-grade birthday party that day. She came from her classroom and whispered something to our teacher. Then, they both stepped around the corner. They weren’t completely hidden, though. I could see them crying.
Mrs. Lowery was well-known for her ability to solve any crisis by dabbing away tears with her hanky and then producing a peppermint from her desk drawer. No peppermint could fix what she told us once she gained control of her tears. President Kennedy had been killed.
The universe seemed to spin dangerously close to the edge of control. I could not imagine what would happen. Would our enemies declare war since we didn’t have a president to protect us? Would the killer be hiding outside in the bushes after school? Unreasonable fear consumed me back in the 1960’s. And it threatened again on that August night of the late seventies.
I’m not sure who I cried for during those next hours – the Litton family, or myself, or the great American hopes which had died on a rural airstrip. Although I was politically ignorant and spiritually immature, I had given my best for the hope of a cause which had now disappeared.
But, of course, my hope was in the wrong thing.
It was right to vote. Even to sacrifice by voting through pain. Lots of people have endured much worse to make our voting possible. It is right to campaign, to argue, to defend, to stand up for what we believe. It is vital that we hope, work, and pray for a better future on this earth.
Yet, when all the votes have been counted and all the noise turns to other news, we will be left with the same thing we had back in 1976. Fallible human beings doing what they can to keep our boat afloat.
Do not despair at the thought, Dear Reader. For we are also left with something much better. It is an amazing truth recorded for us centuries ago by the One who holds all power. I did not yet know these words during the dark days after President Kennedy’s death. I didn’t know them immediately after Jerry Litton. Yet I experienced them in a reality I couldn’t explain.
“When the earth and all its inhabitants shake, I am the One who steadies its pillars.” Psalm 75:3 Holman Christian Standard
We were steadied. We were held. And we will be so again and again.
So, what shall we do? Well, let’s educate ourselves in this primary season. Go online and look up state and local elections. Read an area newspaper. Find out what people stand for or against. Check their track record in lif.. And then, go vote. Even if it is inconvenient for you.
Once you’ve done all that, take a deep breath and sit down with the people you love. Enjoy a meal. Pop a peppermint. Talk of pleasant things. Because the earth will not shake off its foundation, no matter who loses or wins.