What Does It Mean to Cast a Vote?

Cast. What does it mean?

I have cast a dry fly on my river in North Georgia, the Cartecay that runs along Highway 52 in Ellijay. I cast a nymph when I first started fly fishing in my early twenties, when I used the weighted line to cast the attractor into the gin clear waters in the Chattahoochie River, up above Helen. During my Texas sojourn, I was relegated to cast a bug for a big bass on Lake Fork and a small fly for bream on Lake Palestine. And I’ve cast flies all over the state of Montana, in the prettiest streams I have known. It’s a favorite thing for me to do, particularly in solitude, casting a fly. Trout seem to prefer God’s most beautiful places in which to live.

But I’ve also cast a play, a production, a musical, in fact. It involves finding just the right person to play a special part in a dramatic production. In a musical, it entails combining a vocal ability, along with the capacity to dance, and add in the ability to not suck at acting. I’ve been lucky to find “just the right person” so many times, and failed on the rare occasion. Some say that I have a good eye and ear, but that sounds like the kind of braggadocious claim that led me to cast my vote in a particular direction.

But the casting you and I have been engaged with recently focusses on casting our vote. We may have mailed in our vote due to concerns of the corona virus, or perhaps with mobility issues. It’s the one time when “mailing it in” is a good thing, a responsible thing.

Or we may have dropped it in a ballot box at a polling area, having secured an absentee ballot, filled it out, and then driving by to drop it in.

Or, we may have gone to vote early, avoiding the long lines to cast our vote at a designated early voting place. Those have seemed to have become scarce these days, which is a bad thing. Voting needs to be encouraged, as my friend John Lewis said, and put his derriere one the line to make it be so.

My way to cast, I say, in the voice of Foghorn Leghorn, to cast my vote is to go to my particular and peculiar voting place on Election Day. I love the excitement of the day, this day that makes us Americans, deciding who it is we want to represent us on the city council, to serve on the board of education, to be on the judicial bench, to make wise decisions in terms of prosecution, to be representatives in the state legislature, to represent us in Congress, and yes, even to go live in that big white house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I enjoy going to my polling place, to have Kitty, a retired person who was a member at the Cathedral where I served, check me in…..she always does, as she has been a faithful volunteer. Regardless, she dutifully checks my ID to ascertain that a clone is not trying to steal my vote.

Kitty and I were both members of the Rose Society of Atlanta, with her knowing light years more than me about growing roses. She is the quintessential volunteer. Except this year. This year Kitty handed off her duties to someone who was not so susceptible to COVID. And, me, I had moved to Glynn County in coastal South Georgia, with a poll place at a community church on mid-island. Things have changed. Notice how that happens.

How did it feel for you? This felt different, perhaps because of the lingering pandemic, perhaps because of the seeming importance of the outcome. Both parties hyped that it was the most important election in the history of our country. And it is, each time we make that decision as to who will represent us.

Elections give us either/or decisions. You vote for one candidate, and not the other. It’s usually a binary choice, this person and not that person. It leaves those who have chosen the winning candidate with a sense of victory, a feeling that things are going my way, of being in the majority in the city, state, or country.

But it simultaneously gives those who vote for the one who did not win with a bad taste, a feeling of losing, which is rarely a good thing. I’m about fifty-fifty, so I know how it feels how to win and how to lose. And as Tricky Dick infamously said, it feels better to win. For a while, he might have added.

As was recalled in the movie about the Obama-McCain election in 2008, many McCain followers were dismayed, even angry that they lost. I remember the incredibly gracious and reassuring way that McCain congratulated his opponent and urged his voters to abide by the results of the election. He squelched the over-zealous Palin who wanted to beat the drum of dissent in those hours following the historic moment. That’s the kind of patriot John McCain was as he realized the historic moment as we elected the first black man to be President of the United States. While I happened to be working that week at a hospital in Tyler, Texas and on that particular evening, I joined many black citizens in their pride at the change, the increase of opportunities in our country, along the vision of Thomas Jefferson, made more inclusive in the expansion of that idea by Martin King. From counting as only a fraction of a human being, a black man would be the President of the United States. Righteous.

And before that, when I was still a Texan, I remember the magnanimous response of Al Gore to his apparent loss to George W. Bush after a court battle. Gore took the high road of accepting the Supreme Court decision which disallowed the votes in Miami that would have given him the victory. Gore showed his patriotism and his love of country by allowing the process to reach a conclusion. That is the kind of statesmanship that we see and want in our public officials who supposedly serve a higher cause.

I am writing this on the morning before Election Day. I am wondering what the aftermath of this current process. I am struggling. To try to write that one true sentence, I am scared to death as to what will follow this week. Threats of violence, people claiming that there is no way their candidate could lose, the conspiratorial virus that seems to have infected a good portion of our country…..this is the emotional bed in which this process of election will play out.

I am praying, pausing, diving deep to find some sense of hope that we will see our way through. My rabbi teacher used to tell me about something called “meta-awareness” which allows one to rise above the hysteria of the moment.

Pundits and political consultants are trying to stoke the fires, the passions, that just might burn it all down.

Remember when we would send delegations from the Carter Center to monitor elections in so-called banana republics. And now, we are one.

I have been disappointed by the run up to this election. Is this the end of our democracy, or damaging wreck at an intersection? Or will this challenge strengthen us in our resolve to secure the vote to every citizen? Buoyed by the registration of new voters and the pre-vote in record numbers, it is as if we have gotten a whiff of a threat to our way of life and are responding proactively. But are we still going to be wrestling for the next decade, with a persistent taste for crazy conspiracy theories in pizza parlors while ignoring the meddling by outside interests that intend us harm. The vote and decisions on such matters still are in flux, in process. Too early to declare, they will chirp tomorrow night.

My hunch is we will be in a holding pattern. An extended holding pattern, like the planes I used to fly around Atlanta back in the good old days. The flight attendants would bring me Chivas as we banked round and round the metro looking to slip into a descent, even though I had begun my own. I would make my move to Drambuie to signal my sophistication to my lovely flying friend, before tray tables were to be hoisted into their upright and locked position. Man, I picked the wrong election cycle to stop drinking, as Lloyd Bridges might say. Ironic, don’t you think, that he was the biological father of The Dude?

At my desk, I am flooded by Neil Young’s plaintive Helpless, poetically selected for me by the Spotify gods. Followed by Neil’s earlier incarnation in the Buffalo Springfield, urging me to stop, and look around, see what’s going down, a song from my elementary days, the first protest song that I ever “got”. How funny to find out fifty years later that it was written “in protest” to a curfew at a local teen club in LA, not the far-off war as I thought. And then the stereo gods speak with John Prine’s voice, urging me to blow up my TV, throw away my newspapers, eat a lot of peaches, and find Jesus on my own. What the hell algorithm am I riding on this holding pattern?

Finally, my man Jerry of the Grateful Dead punctuates my time of reflection with his one, poignant question: What I want to know is…..are you kind?

God, or gods, you know I’m trying. Flaps down.

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