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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hope

November 4, 2010

My friends have either avoided me or tip-toed around me or sent gentle (real and metaphorical) hugs towards me in the wake of the election on Tuesday. They have perhaps forgotten that this is the way I view the world (with credit to original artist, Selin Jessa):



Okay, I admit the results on Tuesday broke my heart, but it didn't change my outlook. In the last year, I have gotten to see more parts of our community and meet, visit, and work with more interesting and committed people than I ever thought possible. I do not regret a single moment. My personal retrospective would include
  • standing in front of the very angry tea-party led crowd a the Health Care Town Hall in August 2009 when I introduced Chet;
  • speaking on Chet's behalf at Candidate's forums from Millican and Wellborn into north Bryan at the Hispanic Forum's meeting at the Sons of Herman Hall;
  • planning and organizing 14 house parties--13 in August. . .2 in my own home;
  • hanging around with twenty-somethings who live on Red Bull, Layne's chicken strips, and candy for weeks at a time;
  • working every day in an office that didn't have a single comfortable or posture-supporting chair;
  • driving t-posts in the Brazos clay that hadn't seen rain in way too long;
  • staring at my facebook friends list to see if I could impose on any of them ONE MORE TIME to do something for the campaign;
  • playing the game Stump Vickie, which involved staff or interns requesting something they wanted or needed, betting that I didn't have it in my car or home. I almost always won this one!
  • building a database called Hard Democrats Vickie Knows and wishing it were longer;
  • providing first aid for burns to a staffer who put out a flaming shirt by stamping on it with his (bare) foot and for a dog bite to a cavasser (from the gear in my car--this included betadine, hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls, gauze pads, neosporin, blister pads, and bandages).
  • phoning across the district--not just the supporters and undecideds--but also those who used quite lively and unfriendly invectives before hanging up;
  • block walking in the cold, dark, and rain in an unfamiliar neighborhood alone until the polls closed on Tuesday;
  • I could go on, but you get the drift.
I may not understand the wave that swept Chet out of office (here is his gracious concession speech which includes a mention of Erin) while keeping the governor in office, but I strongly believe in the electoral process. Erin taught me not to flinch. I will not complain about the outcome, but will remain firm in my resolve to continue to work towards what I believe. Being in the minority won't still my voice, nor dull my work ethic, nor blunt my sense of humor.

Here's one reason I remain hopeful:

This is Beatrice Grear. She told me to call her BeBe (which, coincidentally, is what Erin preferred me to call her). She's 86 and has voted in every election that she has been eligible to vote in. She thought she would miss this year because she had to sell her car and has a hard time getting around. I drove her to early vote. We did it curbside so she wouldn't have to negotiate the ramp up into Galilee Baptist Church.

When we got there the election judge didn't hassle her for having no registration card nor a driver's license. BeBe reached into her purse and pulled out a fat bundle of mail wrapped in rubber bands, which she handed to the judge. The judge found her tax bill, had her sign it, and certified her eligibility. I didn't know you could vote without a picture ID, but it is the law!

When they brought the machine to my car and set it on her lap, BeBe had a quick trigger and hit select before she had instructions. Her choice lit up: Straight Ticket (Party X). The election judge stopped her before she went on and carefully showed her how the machine worked. She rotated the wheel for her to demonstrate voting straight ticket and for each candidate, one at a time. Then she worked with BeBe to guarantee that she selected what she actually wanted: Straight Ticket (Party Y).

After she cast her vote, the election judge looked at me and said "I may be a lifelong member of Party X, but I always want voters to cast their vote exactly the way they want, not the way I want it."

BeBe, by the way, thanked me for taking her to vote so many times, that I was slightly embarrassed that such a simple act could elicit such appreciation.

The week before election day my friend, Erin Fry (she and Erin loved seeing each other and saying "Hi, Erin" "Hi, Erin" and giving each other knowing smiles), sent me an essay that her son, Dustin, wrote for his AP English III class, called "Hope Changes Everything." In the spirit of hope, I have included the essay in its entirety here (and added my own emphasis in bold):

Hope Changes Everything

Quantifying a feeling is strikingly difficult. Before writing this essay, I believed that I had a solid emotional understanding of what hope is, and I was surprised to find how difficult it is to put the true meaning of hope into words. To help me do so, I decided to read an online essay about hope. I found one that maintains that hope is a counterproductive force, because it results in idle wishing rather than decisive action. Reacting to that pessimistic document helped me to focus my thoughts for this essay, because I disagreed thoroughly with it. Hope, despite the dictionary definition meaning "expectation and desire," is not about wishing. Rather, hope is a trust in humanity; a faith that even when everything else fails, the "better side" of human nature will prevail--if people never stop working for what they believe in.

Disturbingly, the word "hope" is constantly abused. My peers say that they hope the next test is easy; sports fans say that they hope that the next season will be more successful. Some people use the word more sparingly, contending that one "wishes" for a good grade and "hopes" for world peace. This is a useless distinction, because it applies itself to the same, incorrect definition. Hope is not a wish for the future, but a trust that there is enough good in the world to make it a better place.

To clarify this definition, consider a man who, on his way to work, drives past a factory. Every day, he shudders at the thick, black smoke that the hulking structure exhales. Largely because of his experience with the factory, the man hopes that someday, Americans will have more respect for the environment. However, the man's feeling is not hope at all; it is merely an idle wish. The man in the example does nothing to change attitudes about the environment; he seems to wish they will miraculously change on their own. His disgust with the factory does not spur him to action. A wish is an excuse to do nothing: why should the man buy in a hybrid car or a weird-looking lightbulb when his wish for the future is a greater investment in the environment than the factory's smokestack? Unlike a wish, hope would make the man a supporter of the environment in more than philosophy. If he truly hoped that others' attitudes about the environment would change, he would trust that they would evolve if he helped them along. Unlike a wish, hope is not an excuse for inaction, but an incentive for industry.

Hope has real-life consequences. During World War II, Nazi Germany persecuted and killed millions of Jews. It was a time of terror for European Jews, and many went into hiding. This poem was found scrawled on a German cellar wall where Jews had hidden:

"I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining.
I believe in love
even when I don't feel it.
I believe in God
even when there is silence" ("Aftermath").

This poem is an example of hope. Rather than submitting to the pressure imposed by the inhumanity of the Nazis, the author of the poem remained optimistic. Even though the sun wasn't shining on the Jewish people at the time, the author of the poem knew that it would return someday. They maintained this trust even in the face of horrendous adversity. Rather than asking God to show himself, or begging the metaphorical sun to rise, the poem's author knew that God was still present, and knew that the sun would light up the world again someday. The poem's author had tremendous hope because they trusted in humanity's ability to heal, rather than quietly wishing that someday the world would be a better place.

The poem shows that hope can keep people optimistic in terrible situations. Hope can also lead to dramatic changes in the world. In pre-civil war America, millions of African-Americans were enslaved. Even those that were free faced extreme discrimination. There was crushing social pressure for them to keep their heads down and be inconspicuous. Despite this, the African-Americans invented a new culture, one that was a mixture of their home cultures and their masters'. This new culture has had a profound influence on modern-day popular culture, most famously in our music (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey 75). This cultural innovation exemplifies hope, because rather than submitting to the constant psychological assaults of racist white people, the African-Americans trusted themselves to survive centuries of abuse. They had faith in their own humanity, and that trust reified itself in a new culture.

A few years ago, a little girl named Erin Buenger went to my church. She abounded with energy and usually displayed a huge smile on her face. She was a near-constant presence at church, and everybody there knew and loved her. Although I never watched her play, she was apparently a great soccer player as well. It would have been impossible to guess that she suffered from neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that claimed her life at age eleven. The disease never seemed to slow her down--she worked indefatigably to raise awareness and money for neuroblastoma research. She even made friends with Congressman Chet Edwards, who worked hard to help with Erin's awareness project. Erin is gone now, but her dream remains, because of the hope of her mother. Today, Ms. Buenger runs Erin's Dream Lanyards to raise support for children's neuroblastoma. Her belief that her continuation of Erin's life work will make a difference to children with neuroblastoma is a powerful source of hope for her. This hope has enabled her to remain a positive person, despite the death of her daughter.

Though pragmatists and pessimists may rant about its uselessness, hope has an immeasurably powerful influence on the world. Hope enables people to continue living when it might seem that they have nothing else left to live for. Hope demands action when there is no other evidence that an accomplishment will be made. Hope is not an excuse, but a dare. Hope is not a cry in the darkness, but a trust in the light. Hope is the spark that makes us the human race, and not just a tribe of primates. As long as people can wake up in the morning and feel a personal connection with the rising sun, hope will live on.

Works Cited

"Aftermath and Jewish Responses to the Holocaust." Oracle ThinkQuest Libraryhttp://library.thinkquest.org/12307/aftermath.html>.

Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas Andrew Bailey. The American Pageant: a History of the Republic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Print.



7 comments:

  1. I love Bebe's attitude. Also, I can feel your pain because one of my favorite senators, Russ Feingold, got voted out of office. I was so sad!

    And I really love the message of that essay.

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  2. sorry to hear about Chet :(.. but if it helps, an emergency room doc just got elected, for the third time (and 8 years after the end of his second term in office ended) as governor in oregon. he understands healthcare. he's a good guy. i know he doesn't have much sway on national politics, but oregon tends to be a trendsetter, to which many other states follow. BUT, i do know what it is like to be so supportive of a candidate and see them loose. it can be a real slap. hang in there my friend.

    at least a lot of people voted, got involved, had their voices heard. that's what democracy is all about.

    i'll shut up now.

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  3. I love BeBe (also the name of my first horse)...

    and.. WOw..what an essay.. words elude me, and that's rare.

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  4. I was so sad to hear about Chet but brought to tears reading the essay about hope. Thank you for this post.

    kim from ny-

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  5. I love love love the glass is always full picture! I can't believe I never thought of that before... it's going to be my knew motto! haha.
    And that is an excellent essay. I'm in AP English too but haven't written anything that amazing. ; )

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  6. What a great blog entry! I'm Canadian and therefore just an observer of the US Election process. However, somethings (some people) just make me shake my head!

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