Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Duty and Honor

Every four years, at about this time, I am relieved not to be living in the U.S.. I hear from friends Stateside that the political rhetoric, mudslinging and mistruths are rife on both sides. To live removed here in England, in my little bucolic bubble, I am away from the media harassment.

Both my mother and father can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower. They both have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War as well as the Civil War. My mother, three sisters and I belong to the Mayflower Society and Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). It would be Fair to say that we take American history and a personal sense of patriotism seriously.

For the record we are all liberal democrats, but that is beside the point.

The first time I had the opportunity to vote in a presidential election was in 1988. I was a college student and was absolutely thrilled to be given the opportunity to vote; for my voice to be heard. As I stood in the curtained booth and pulled the lever, I began to cry. My throat became tight and tears streamed down my cheeks. Feeling the significance of what not only my ancestors, but so many men and women went through so that I could simply pull a lever and have my ideas count, overwhelmed me.

I felt honoured to be voting, but felt a great sense of duty, as well. This was a precious gift not to be wasted.

I went back to the apartment that I shared with four other friends full of patriotic emotion. I asked them who they had voted for. ‘What? Who cares—it doesn’t really count—why bother?’ was the answer I got from one roomy. None of the four had voted.

Ten years later I took my then two year old daughter with me to the church were we voted. She asked what we were doing there.
‘We are here to vote.’ I told her.
‘Why do you vote?’ She asked. Hmmm, how does one explain that to a two year old?
‘Well Claire, I vote because it is my duty and my honor.’
‘Oh...duty, honor’, she said as she looked at me. I felt my throat tighten again, then came the water works. Luckily the curtain was closed and I was able to compose myself before exiting.

For about the next three months, every time we passed that church, Claire would shout, ‘Mommy! Duty, honor!’

For the past two presidential elections the mister and I have voted in absentee from Europe. And it is nice to be able to troll newspapers online and politicians’ websites to gain some insight—rather than being force fed 24-hour ‘news’ loops.

But I miss pulling that lever.

The other evening a woman called from the Democrats Abroad group that I belong to, just to make sure that I had remembered to vote in absentee. ‘Of course,’ I assured her. ‘I feel it is my duty and honor to vote.’ Just as the word ‘vote’ came out, my throat tightened and I literally could no longer speak. Although very polite, this woman must have thought that I was about one sandwich short of a picnic. And maybe I am.

But those two words carry with them the weight of our great American history, of the sacrifices so many men and women have made so that we all can have the ease of simply pulling a lever and quite literally, changing the world.

No matter which side of the fence you stake your political yard sign in, democrat, republican or independent, as an American it is your duty and honor to vote.

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