Tuesday, November 3, 2020

An Eight-Year-Old Perspective on Election Day, Education, Faith, and Freedom

This morning I greeted the day enthusiastically, calmly, and confidently…for about five minutes at which point my brain started doing its usual analysis of the fact that it was the birthday of John H. Eargle, Jr., co-founder of Keystone School, long since gone from this world, about how important education had been to my mother, and how our school used to hold mock elections every four years to teach civics and garner enthusiasm in voting, which we can all benefit from, those of us who have gone through levels of enthusiasm and anxiety when it comes to “politics.”

As a child I used to sit quietly around the table as the grownups had interesting and active discussions of the politics of the days, the 1960s, and at first I found the entire topic boring. I never once heard the sharing of differing opinions rise about conversational level, though. By the 1970s, my high school classmates and I were watching presidential hearings after school or the reruns late at night.

Though family and friends' discussions were passionate, there was always a collegiality about the discussion of opposing sides and when it was done, and the visit was concluded, or moved to another topic, the visits always ended with hugs and kisses. I grew to like politics or at least tolerate them long enough to pay attention to details, make up my mind and await the day I was old enough to vote.

I remember even in elementary school, asking my mother why politics were so frequently talked about and she said, “it’s a good thing in our country when there are two sides and people talk about the benefits of each side.” She continued, “Dawnie, the day people stop speaking aloud about politics is a day to beware of, because that will mean we are no longer a free country. I hope you will never see a time like that.” Some 50 years later, it had almost reached that point.

Facebook, Twitter, and other mediums where platforms are frequently expressed became a graveyard for anger, epithets, mockery, and hate-filled speech. Many people were quick to write about who they supported and voted for, and why those who didn’t see that way could remove them from their list of friends. And so we arrived today at many people afraid to say who they voted for, lest they lose half their friends, or make someone mad, or anger their bosses and scotch any chances of a raise—win or lose, you could lose. That’s not how it is supposed to be, but it is.

This morning, something more important in the lives of some I care about was going on—something far more important than the country’s future…was going on. A beautiful young woman in San Antonio was in the midst of critical life/death surgery to try and repair some major damage that had happened during a prior surgery. This beautiful young brilliant woman has been through about 90 of these surgeries in the past decade, and what she experiences would crater most mature individuals, while she is in massive pain but copes with it with what can only be described as “the peace that passes all understanding.”

Rebecca, her name, is not originally of this world. Really, I’m fully convinced she was an angel let out of Heaven long enough to be born and to live and to grow to teach people she knows, and others she doesn’t, how to pray—unceasingly, fervently, and to expect a perfect outcome of an answered prayer. That’s the only reason I can think of (logically) as to why a child should ever have to endure what she has while here on earth, and her family to have to experience these ongoing tests of faith. This is an answer I’ll have to wait until I get to Heaven to understand but it’s high on my list of questions. Of course, I have a list of questions…you know me.

Following a prayer in my early morning path that involved me actually speaking out loud with the Lord, when my prayers are usually silent, I then took to scanning the local paper online. I indulged myself in a moment to enjoy the diversion of my horoscope. I wasn’t looking for answers outside God. I was looking for what might be there to surprise me. It read:

Consider consequences and options first. Quiet the mind through meditation. Psychic communication with wild creatures will be especially lucid. Your creative talents shine. Use your imagination. A child or new friend inspires you. Tonight: You might just want to luxuriate and take a nap.
Hmm…I’d been quiet and meditated (if that’s what you perceive as meditation, quieting the mind to receive a gift of thoughts). No wild creatures here…Barney’s still across the street, sleeping, and won’t arrive for a while. Luxuriate and take a nap? Not a chance. Hmmm, a child or new friend inspires you. Wasn’t planning on being out except a trip to the post office.

And then my phone rang, it was FaceTime and it was my eight-year-old pal! I immediately smiled as the call connected and I saw the sky. The sky, not my pal. He said, “Hi there!” and I said, “Hi! Whatcha doing?” “Fishing,” he said. “Did you get the day off from school?” I asked. He said, “Yes, it’s Election Day.” I said, “Oh, that’s interesting. Are they using your school as a polling site?” I am entirely forgetting he’s only eight and might not know what a polling site is. I worry too much.

He said, “No, it was a polling site last year but not this year.” Eight years old. Okay. I said, “Where are you?” as I could see only sky. He said, “At a creek not far from my house.” I said, “Beautiful sky, honey” and he said, “That’s what Pippa said when I talked to her a few minutes ago.” I laughed. Pippa and I often postulate how pretty clouds are during drives along the roadways.

So, he explained that he had just caught a channel catfish that was fairly large but he threw it back into the water. I asked about his bait and he said, “Today, I brought some bread and it’s working pretty well.” We discussed bait, hooks, fishing poles (he has two fishing rods, thank you very much), and how we were both not fans of minnows. Worms didn’t rate discussion. He said quickly, “Let me call my Dad to check in.” “Okay,” I said, brightly.

We talked about school and his favorite subject. He knows I groan if he tells me “Recess” whenever I ask, so he said that Math was pretty good. He also said that one of his neighbors used to come fishing with him but couldn’t be away from the house right now. He was actually under about 14 watchful eyes by phone who can keep the proverbial eyes on exactly where he is and use the GPS to be there in two minutes. So if you have concerns about his being “on his own,” forget it. Lewis & Clark were solitary explorers. The training wheels are still on for him, but he’s not aware of them.

He said, “I’m going to leave the iPad where it is and then move over to a different spot to see if I can get better fish there. You probably can’t see me, but I’ll be there.” Oh wow…this child…channels messages to me in a way that hit me like the proverbial 2x4…my concerns and fears this morning for Rebecca and her surgery….it was like God telling me, “You can’t see me but I’ll be right there.” Trying not to tear up, I said, “Okay, honey.”

We got back to talking. He asked me whether I’d voted in the Election this year. I said, “Yes, I voted on the second day of Early Voting.” He paused and said, “Who did you vote for?” I paused. I said, “Actually I voted for a lot of people this year. There were so many on the ballot.” I was being cautious not to influence him with ‘my’ politics when he was at an age where discernment of who a family votes for, who extended family votes for, who the country votes for—all those factors are in play. I didn’t want to say anything wrong.

I thought about all the ways in which my friends whose careers in entertainment had given their time to encourage voting. Carl Giammarese recorded a version of James Holvay's and Gary Beisbier's hit for The Buckinghams, "Susan," for a group called "You Can't Stop Me from Voting." Then, Kiki Ebsen and others joined voices at the invitation of Terry Wollman on his fabulous collaborative song (with Lillooet Fox and Rachelle Lynn Gislason), "Beautiful (The Sound of Us)," featuring Ray Jupiter and Donald Webber, Jr. and a multivoice choir to encourage voting this year. Also, Kiki was invited to contribute two songs to a genius playlist ,"Music to Vote By," designed by Kelly Fitzgerald, John Diggins, and Michelle Mangione. If you're stuck in line, you're not stuck when you have music. All these wonderful events with talented musicians using their gifts to uplift were developed to encourage Americans and inspire them to get out and vote this year. My mind wandered and I found myself so proud, smiling at my friends' accomplishments, staying positive while they couldn't pursue their own careers, and taking time to give to others.

My eight-year-old future Supreme Court justice pushed me, “Who did you vote for in the Presidential election?” Yes, he speaks this way in full, intelligent, complete sentences all the time because that is how his parents and others speak to him, with him. I paused and said to myself, “I have always told this child the truth and I’m not about to change now, and I’ve always answered his questions.” So I told him. He said, “What do you like about him?” and I gave a one-sentence true answer. He said, “Okay.” He said, “How do you feel about (the other guy)?” and I said, “I’m not a fan. He took it all in, didn’t question, didn’t comment. I liked that. He asked, I answered.

Our discussion went back to Halloween and I said, “What did you all do for Halloween?” He said, “on Halloween itself, we didn’t go out. It wasn’t safe.” I said, “I’m sorry about that honey, I think next year things should be different.” He said, “Longer than that, because (presidential candidate he said by name--they are currently both presidential candidates so no guessing allowed) said the vaccine won’t be ready until 2022 at least.”

I wanted to cry and beam with pride at the same time. Eight years old. Knows what a vaccine is and that next year might not be a time when kids can return to normal Halloween. This was the same child who explained matter-of-factly and not at all sadly that “this year my birthday doesn’t have the usual kind of party because of Coronavirus.” He didn’t say anything less than Coronavirus. I know adults who forget its formal name and refer to it as “this thing.”

Birthday and Halloween denied to my little pal thanks to the pandemic. His parents had created loving, wonderful alternatives to celebrate both events but what the usual was, wasn’t this year. And he was not the least bit feeling sorry for himself. This child, Lord help.

Ha. “Lord, help” was a trademark expression of the cofounder of Keystone…a native of deep east Texas and it was his point of exasperation that was reached before he uttered it. I laughed as that is what I find myself uttering as a prayer without even realizing it. Ah, the things we learn as children.

I asked if he had packed anything for lunch. He said, “I might have some of the bread I brought for the fish, but I am getting a little hungry.” He said, “I will stay here a little longer.”

"Would you look up places to find turtles in (the name of his subdivision)?" he requested. Off to Google I went and then we discussed a particular nature conservancy, and he knew exactly where that was. I said, “You really love turtles, don’t you?” and he agreed. He knew all the correct names of the parts of a turtle. Asked him about reading and I was delighted to hear he’d been enjoying two books recently and I said, “That’s good; I love it when you like to read.”

He said, “It didn’t used to be something I like, but I like it right now.” I said, “Well, I’ve got a series of books that may be a little old for you because the oldest boy in the family is 12, but maybe you would like it. If you like one, I have a whole series.” I’m thinking that I want to send him “The Happy Hollisters” from my young days as a budding solver of mysteries that would lead my mother to christen me “Miss Marple, Jr.” or “Nancy Drew, Jr.,” depending on her choice at the time. Only those old enough will know who or what a Miss Marple is.

My heart was thrilled when he said, “I’ll try one and see how I like it.” I’ll be wrapping up volume one for mailing soon. Fingers crossed.

He proclaimed, “Next year I’m in 4th grade!” and I said, “Yes, that’s great.” He said, “But I love 3rd grade right now. It’s my favorite so far!” and his heart soared, you could hear it over the phone. I was working on something on the computer and he was busy fishing while we conversed, just two pals hanging out while we accomplished our goals. He is one of two pals I do that with; especially during the isolation of the pandemic, it makes a difference to be on FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom with your friends and to just hang out for a while. You emerge from that renewed as it’s the next best thing to being there. The fact that he is eight is irrelevant. Any time spent with him is time well spent.

All of this to say that today the future of our country will be determined when all the votes are in and counted and the winner is announced. As long as we are alive, I hope there will always be at least two parties and room for an independent when it comes to needing an option. I hope that people will always continue to vote and remain active in each election. Whether or not they wish to share their opinions on a public social forum that can often lead to separation and bad feelings, may we always live in a society free enough to express our opinions openly, without fear or favor resulting. And may we always have gratitude for the blessings we have received in life so far and reasons to always be optimistic for the future ahead.

May each of you have a powerfully fruitful Election Day and Evening. May we improve our circumstances and quality of life to preserve life, rather than lose any more lives. That continues to be my regular prayer. And, if a miracle for Rebecca is your will, “Lord help” remains my fervent prayer. May my eight-year-old pal continue to be a fisher of men as he is today a fisher of fish. I see his future unfolding and he will be whatever he was destined to be, or wants to be, and it might just be that he will be a Supreme Court Justice. To me, he will always be supreme. As Ruthie Foster sang on "Austin City Limits" last Saturday, “Woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on freedom.” To which I add the other lyric, “Woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on Jesus.”

May God bless America, always. Amen.