“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Like many this November, we are a family divided.
I’ve started to plan Thanksgiving dinner. On the list is cranberry sauce, of course. But here’s the rub. Half of the family likes fresh, whole, cranberries simmered to perfection. The other half likes the gelatinous stuff that comes out of can with a loud “glurp” as the seal is broken and it slithers onto the plate. The fresh cranberry sauce eaters do not understand their cousins’ love for the jellied variety in the slightest and vice versa. Despite our differences, we will gather, agreeing to disagree about cranberries while focusing on more important things. Like pie. Lots of pie.
In other news, there will be a new president this week whether we like it or not. As far as presidential campaigns go, it has been a stunningly ugly one, hasn’t it? Of course, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. In every other presidential election in my lifetime, as a people we have pretty much gone to the polls, cast our votes, waited for the results, and either celebrated or cursed depending on who has ended up with the W. We have agreed to disagree. As a nation, we’ve walked it off and gotten back to business.
Doing anything other than that is beneath us all. When this is over we still have to live together, work together, and figure out a way to move beyond the rhetoric of both major political parties and the pundits. Sadly, this presidential election has changed us. It has not made us kinder or gentler. It has not made us more compassionate or tolerant of those who share views different from ours. It has added nothing of value to our national conversation about what makes our country truly great or even good. There’s more than enough blame to go around for this state of affairs, as far as I’m concerned.
Years ago, I took a middle-aged student of mine to vote for the very first time. He had fought with U.S. soldiers in the jungles of Laos toward the end of the Vietnam War. After escaping into Thailand with his wife and eight children, Xai and his family spent several years in a refugee camp before being sponsored to come to the United States. Once they were settled, he spent another couple of years learning enough English to support his family and take the test to become a U.S. citizen. I recall picking him up in front of his house the morning of the election. He was wearing a white dress shirt and tie and was clutching his naturalization papers in his hand. I had never seen anyone so excited about voting. At the polls, after casting his vote, he stopped to greet several elderly folks who were there working the election. He was shaking hands and grinning from ear to ear as he told no one in particular, “Today is my first time to vote. Today I am an American!” I remember wondering whether or not my own ancestors had felt the same sense of wonder and pride the first time they cast ballots as citizens in a new country.
His is the American story, isn’t it? A story bigger than any candidate or slogan. More powerful than any movement or slick ad campaign. Because it has never really been about the politicians anyway. It has always been about us. It has been about our families and friends. Our churches and communities. Our stories.
And when we gather in a few weeks around tables laden with turkey and stuffing and cranberries, too, it is those stories that will sustain us and make us thankful.
Kinder and more gentle with ourselves and one another.
At least, that’s my plan.