The first presidential election I remember was in 1988. I was 5 years old. I probably remember it most because my parents said they’d let us stay up until the president was announced. As the evening wore on and we 3 kids were literally climbing up the walls (alright, we were shimmying up the walls in the hallway), my parents sent us to bed. I had little interest in which candidate won, but I was disappointed that night because I was sent to bed before the winner was announced.
A little over two years later, in the midst of the gulf war or, as we called it, “Operation Desert Storm”, I was a scared second grader lying in my bed, having a nightmare about Saddam Hussein taking over the world and putting us all in camps where they were performing scientific experiments on us. To my relief, the following morning when I awoke, we watched on tv the images of soldiers cheering. The war was over and my fears were gone.
But, less than 2 years after that, I remember the feeling I had when my mom woke me up the morning after election day and told me Bill Clinton would be our next president. As a fourth grader who knew very little about how the world worked, I felt as if all the bad things I’d heard about this man were going to come true and, just as predicted by the conservatives around me, the world would end in a catastrophic collision of nuclear bombs.
As you know, that didn’t happen. Our president was, however, impeached and, as if OJ’s trial hadn’t already proved it to us, we learned all over again that those with the most power can commit the worst crimes and not be held accountable for them.
In 2000, I was too young to vote in the presidential election. But I remember the month that followed, when our nation discovered that not only did no one in Florida know how to count, but 2001 was quickly approaching and we had no idea who our president was going to be. Eventually, the Supreme court called it and George Bush Jr. was announced as President Elect. Not only was I pleased that the suspense of the election was finally over, but I was happy with the outcome. Brighter days were going to dawn.
In 2001, I had just begun my freshman year of college. I thought I was a grown-up who was ready to live on my own, independent of my parents support. But, on September 11 when I woke to the live action on the tv of an airplane flying into a building, I felt like I wanted to run back to my parents’ house and crawl under their bed and hide. In the days and weeks that followed, our nation prayed together, bought up all the gasoline, and checked all our incoming mail for that deadly white dust we had been told was anthrax.
No one I know ever actually found anthrax in their mail, but you know that we all were certain we would be the next victim.
In 2008, I watched the election coverage at a friend’s house. She had voted for Obama. I had voted for McCain. Not only was I certain she was wrong, but she was certain I was. As you recall, I ended up being in the minority and her candidate won. I did not feel at that time the same way I felt when I was in 4th grade. There was no dread or fear, only confusion and uncertainty. Still, 2009 came and Obama was inaugurated. Then, again in 2013. And all that time, there were still terrorists on airplanes and threats of nuclear war and the other countries around us watched our politics more closely than most Americans and still we complained and looked forward to brighter days.
Then came 2015, and we all got antsy to talk politics again. Who would be the next president? Personally, I was rooting for Ben Carson. Back in the 80’s, he’d operated on the brain of a friend of mine, saving her life, and I felt loyal to the guy for his good work, not to mention his stance on the importance of human life spoke directly to my heart. But Ben didn’t make it to the finals. He was kicked off the island and I began to wonder who I’d shift my loyalties to. In the end, I voted, but not for Hilary or Donald. There were other candidates and I found one that I could actually stand beside and say proudly that I supported.
Of course, he didn’t win. And yours might not have either. But, in my short years on earth, I’ve learned that, no matter who’s president of this relatively young country, life still goes on. One morning, we will wake up to discover a new war. Hundreds of mornings later, we will wake up to find peace.
A simple thing like flying in an airplane or checking our mail can bring us great fear- or it could fill us with the joy of seeing an ancient world, of opening a card from a dear friend- or it could give us that bittersweet feeling of burying a loved one whom we haven’t seen in ages, of a child’s acceptance letter to their dream college in a faraway place.
No matter what happens- no matter who is president- we can all choose to embrace the goodness of humanity and mourn with each other when the storm hits.
If you choose fear, I’ll try to help you be brave.
If you choose anger, I’ll try to defuse it with love.
If you choose joy, I’ll walk alongside you, laughing as we go, remembering the days of our past that brought us here to this moment when we see that life is so much more than an election.