Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Of Hope, Fear, & Being Wounded - Election Day Thoughts

It couldn’t be a more beautiful autumn day, this Tuesday, November 04, 2008, or a more exciting one. I’ve been closely following this presidential race since it began, and the day is finally - finally! - here. I actually took the day off of work for the occasion and woke up at 8:30 a.m, which is a miracle of almost biblical proportions upon a quick survey of my sleeping patterns. I got up, watched some election coverage, then walked the tree-lined path to Uptown Waterloo, where I sat outside eating breakfast and reading the paper.

Now I’m at Starbucks, enjoying an anniversary blend, and have been in my musical glory, as over the music system some of my favourite singers have been playing. There’s been “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me,” by Sinatra, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” by Billie Holiday, as well as songs by Nina Simone and Johnny Hartman.

As has been the case during the campaign, on this election day I am thinking about the themes of hope and fear.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the American leadership went on the offensive, sending their formidable military to Afghanistan, and then, in error, to Iraq. This wasn’t a surprise. After all, if someone came into my house and attacked my family, my initial reaction would probably be to take measures to ensure they didn’t do it again. But would it change my outlook on life, change the kind of person that I am? Would I become a hostile person, so enraged by being wounded that I would cast aside hope and optimism?

After 9/11, it seemed that under George W. Bush and his administration, America became known as the attackers, the aggressors, which in turn dimmed the image of the shining city on a hill, the example for the rest of the world to look for inspiration. The policy of pre-emptive military strikes arose, and the president labeled countries which he had disagreements with as members of an “axis of evil.” The American government has acted without the support of the United Nations – which I admit seems quite impotent – but still it wreaks of the position that the country will do what it pleases and that it doesn’t have much interest in what other nations think. America has been on the offensive.

But let’s talk about being defensive for a moment. On 9/11 America as a nation was deeply wounded. It went on the attack, but it also hunkered down and bolstered homeland security. I realize this is necessary because when someone, or in this case a country, is wounded, you want to examine the reasons for it and try to avoid being hurt again in the same way in the future. But when building walls and preventing vulnerabilities becomes a primary focus, something else can take place. Hopes for the future and commitment to the dreams that an individual or a nation has cherished, they are smothered by defensiveness and fear. Perhaps this is something that has happened south of the border.

When thinking of individual pain, I think that people can be hurt deeply and then they can shut down. They close the windows, and even board them up with wood and nails. Having dreams and being a positive person, though, requires, I think, an opening up and a certain vulnerability.

So what’s the trick? I don’t think any person or nation should be a doormat to be trampled on, but if we are wounded I think we should try our best to do a couple of things. The first one is really hard: Let It Go. To do this we have to realize that things that happen to you or that are inflicted on you, they may hurt like hell, but they do not define you. You have always been a wonderful and unique person, and you are still. Then we must Move On and keep dreaming. Easier said than done, I know. It requires things like boldness, strength, belief in yourself.

Going back to the election, I will admit that I hope that Barack Obama wins tonight. One of the things that has inspired me about him has been his call for national unity, especially earlier in the campaign. It’s a hopeful message of bringing people together. Republicans, Democrats, whites, blacks, straight and gay people. Hope affords the bringing together of people with widely diverse opinions and backgrounds. Fear, though, makes us suspicious of people who are seemingly different than us.

I anxiously await for the results to come pouring in tonight. For now, though, I’ll finish up my coffee and pumpkin scone here at Starbucks.