An unexpected encounter in a waiting room opened my mind to some thoughts on how we view the voting process.
I spent part of Election Day 2012 in a hospital waiting room. I’m okay, but doctors monitor my blood once a month to make sure I remain that way. My blood tests aren’t the usual “tap, slap, off ya go” affairs. I have to wait a while for an IV nurse, so I always take a book.
On election day, I sat on the aisle when a little family rolled up. A teenage girl in a wheelchair with her leg in a cast, a boy about 10 years old and a middle-aged woman wearing a Muslim headscarf scanned the area for a spot to sit together.
I shifted a couple of seats toward the wall from my aisle seat. That left two seats in a makeshift conversation cluster for them. I flashed a “here ya go” gesture. They sat next to me. Problem solved.
Different accents often catch my ear. The woman’s English sounded tentative as if she needed to translate inside her mind before she spoke. The boy and girl chattered away in fast American speech. I tried not to eavesdrop, but they were so close. They sounded as if they had a fun day planned, although they were new to this whole outpatient stuff. I think I added a couple of cordially supportive comments. After all, I’m an old hand at doctor doings.
I usually surprise northerners by chiming in on their conversations, so this exchange, too, ended with the usual polite discomfort. I made an exaggerated sheepish face straight out of vaudeville, muttered, “Oops. Sorry. I’ll mind my own business,” and returned to my book. They resumed their conversations. Sort of. That’s when I noticed the woman had a book open, too.
Her small pocket-sized book had a plain cover and all the text appeared to be Arabic. Or Farsi.
A nurse called the girl for her outpatient procedure. After she left, the woman turned to me. “Have you voted yet?” she said.
I have to admit, I was a little surprised when she spoke to me. “Not yet. My husband asked me to wait until he gets home from work so we can go together. That’s sort of our thing.”
With a smile, she tilted her head toward the boy and said, “He wanted to go first thing this morning. He was so disappointed, though, with the polls. He thought we should vote in the White House.”
We both smiled and nodded in one of those “kids say the darnedest things” moments. Then, I had a memory flash of news footage of Iraqi women with purple thumbs raised to celebrate voting. That’s when an idea sparked.
“He’s got a point,” I said with a bit of aHA moment awe. “Voting should include more ceremony and ritual. It IS a big deal, and we should celebrate it more.”
The girl returned, and family day resumed. Her mom and I nodded cursory farewells, almost as if we hadn’t shared a moment, so I returned to my book. Except she’d planted a thought.
Why don’t we celebrate voting more?
We take voting for granted. Up here in Connecticut, we vote – at least in my town – in elementary schools closed for the day. We arrive down a driveway lined with political signs only to run a gantlet of pamphlet-bearing volunteers. Inside, poll workers are pleasant, even if they’ve been there since the 6 am opening. We arrive, show ID. Get in, get out. Bada bing, bada boom.
Granted, there’s much appeal to getting it over with and returning to normal life.
But we celebrate everything else. Minor holidays. Championship athletic events. The Oscars. Why not Election Day? I have to admit that the relentless negative ads batter my enthusiasm for the process. We get enmeshed in the whole partisan politics clash.
For the first time, I noticed children much more excited about the election than the adults, even the middle-aged woman obviously born in the Middle East. When my husband and I went to vote, a father and son showed up behind us. The son wanted an “I voted” sticker, but the polling place was out. The boy left disappointed, as if he’d been dreaming of that toy for weeks but the store was out of stock.
Are children naive? Or do they have the right idea?