Monday, October 13, 2008



I was taught, by example, how to vote. My parents got up in the morning and dressed as though for church. The day was somehow quieter than other days, even in a household with five kids.

We drove to the polling site and while one parent went in to vote, the other would ride herd on us in the car, but it never took much effort to keep us quiet. It was voting day.

Formal, sober, quietly determined, everyone in my hometown migrated to the polls, and we kids were taught that the actual voting was both a purely personal choice, and a secret. The secret might be shared, but it was uncouth to ask "How did you vote?"

It was never said outright, I think, but we were shown that the vote was sacred: "set apart for a special purpose". My parents treasured their vote, it was at once a right, and a privilege, and an obligation.

To add one voice to the larger voice of the nation, and together say in some mystical way what path the nation will take, is in its own way a religious action, full of faith and determination and patience in the face of a flurry of mere arithmetic.

To choose not to vote is an act of negligence or even despair – both of them equally undermine our shared nation.

I vote for meat on my neighbour’s plate, not mine. For the health of my neighbour’s children, the peace of our streets, the knowledge in our libraries and the significance and beauty of our images and songs. I vote for the strength of the whole, not the benefit of one walled garden at the cost of a wilderness outside.

Arithmetic is the enemy of the vote. The vote is more than a grain of sand on a scale, it is an action in which citizens make themselves manifest as a part of the whole. To neglect it is to become a political ghost, moving voiceless through the world.

An old woman who told stories, who was prisoner of the Nazis, who left her Dutch home for a new home and language and land, told this story:
"Tell me the weight of a snowflake," a mouse asked a wild dove.

"Nothing more than nothing," the dove answered.

"In that case I must tell you a marvelous story," the mouse said. "I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow. Not heavily, not a raging blizzard, no -- just like in a dream without any violence the snow silently fell.

Since I had time, I counted the snowflakes setting on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952 when the next snowflake dropped onto the branch - "nothing more than nothing" as you say - the branch broke off."

Having said that the mouse went away.


1 comment:

quiescenticonoclast said...

....My whispered prayer of thanks to a very wise old woman.