Walking into my polling place, I’m not sure what I expected. Jump-scares, probably. Anxious tension, definitely.
Instead, it felt like walking into church. I haven’t walked into church since the pandemic started. The spirit of the place was communal purpose and meaning. And quiet, except for the warm smiles and hushed banter of the poll workers. Who were all women. Who were mostly black.
There are these women in my life, from my church, who are warm and playful, deep and kind. We have a small group together, that’s multi-racial, multi-generational. Once or twice a month, we sit around a table or on a zoom call and have free-ranging conversations about the grace of God. Even in the midst of a pandemic, if I say yes, they will greet me with the joy and glee of a young child or a very excitable dog and pull me into a tight hug that says, “really, I really do love you, Kate. You are so beautiful.”
Two of these ladies are poll workers. The very friendliest ones, the ones who give the best hugs.
So, walking into my polling place, I don’t know what I expected. I expected the spirit of fear that infected the philosopher child after seeing a few attack ads before I could rush to turn them off. He came to me after bed one night, crying. “Mommy, I just want them to tell the truth. It’s not fair; the politicians aren’t telling the whole truth. How will you know who the right one to lead us is if they don’t tell us the whole story? It’s such a big, important decision. How will you decide?”
With tear-stained face, he lamented, “I wish there was no sin in the world; I wish I could go back to being 8 again, before I knew any of this stuff happened in the world.”
“Me too,” I thought to myself.
My polling place is the county aquatic center. That wet, community pool smell permeated the room.
Two middle-aged women, one white, one black, each in bedazzled face masks lounged behind a folding table, talking about their grown children and how much they love Chick-Fil-A.
“Welcome, honey,” said one, “Here’s a composite ballot. It has all the races in the county on it, you won’t have all of them on ballot, it depends on your district. Get out your ID, we’ll call you in when there’s a free booth.”
Someone from the next room called, “we have a first time voter!” The room erupted with claps and cheers.
“Honey, go stand on the x, then go up to the folding table, someone will run your ID and give you your voting card.”
I stepped inside the room, a cleared out locker room with floor to ceiling mirrors. Behind me, I could see people bent over voting machines, shielded by bright green dividers.
“Next,” a black woman, older, 70s, maybe, beckoned me toward her, “ID please, honey.”
She clicked on a screen, looked at me carefully, I tried to smile so my eyes crinkled. In that moment, I imagined a whole history for her: the great or great-great granddaughter of slaves, a girl who grew up during the civil rights movement, her parents who had to stand in line for hours upon hours to vote if they were even allowed to vote at all, she was in the first class in her town to go to an integrated school. She went to nursing school, had a family. Grandchildren of her own now in college. And, now here she is, ensuring that everyone gets a vote.
I don’t know if any of this is true, it’s all my private speculation. But I do this every single moment of every single day, I make up stories about myself and about other people. I tell them to myself and to my children and to my friends.
We got a lot of people wanting to tell us stories right now.
This is how I answered the philosopher child, when he found me crying for fear of the world and grief of his lost innocence.
“There are always two stories, both are true, you get to choose the one you live out of. The first and best story is one of love: that God made us, and loves us, and is present with us and that we are very good. This is our truest, highest nature. And it’s universally available always. We just have to walk into it and work it out every day. The second story is one of fear: that God is separate and absent from us, that we are unworthy of his love, that we are very, very bad. This is also true. But we get to choose which story we inhabit. God wants us to choose the love story. On that side, there’s faith, hope, and love. On the other, fear, despair, and hate. It’s always more work to choose the first story, but it’s always, always worth it. The fear story spreads a lot quicker, but it’s not nearly as potent as the love story. The love story will always win, eventually. Do you understand? Does that make sense?”
“Yes. No. Not really. Kind of? I think this one will take me a whole lifetime to figure out.”
I don’t know what I expected when I went to vote: I expected the fear story, the one everyone’s been pedaling, the one that’s so easy to sell. The one where it’s us vs. them. The one where the nation is crumbling around us. Fear fear fear. Part of that is true.
But this part is true too: What I saw at the polling place, the quiet reverence, the camaraderie. What I saw was us. Just us. Just people trying to find their way forward toward a bright and good future together. Different but together. I saw the kind, earnest, intelligent eyes of the poll workers glittering back at me from behind their masks. I saw the collective will it takes to turn a community pool into a sacred space where constitutional rights are ensured.
What makes up a family or a church or a country is people, us. All of us. The biggest secret to the love story is that there is no us versus them. It’s just us—all of us faulty beloved humans—and Him.
So vote your conscience. Get you one of those tight "you are so loved" hugs from your closest people. Look up, breathe deep. We’ll be okay.
We'll be okay.