Just like Florida in 2022, I was not prepared 42 years ago when, coming out from a Fellini film on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, I heard someone tell a friend, “Carter’s conceded. Reagan won.”
I had a small bottle of Jack Daniels in my bag, intended for victory toasts when watching the election returns once we were back home. And just like Fort Meyers, I didn’t think the storm was heading in my direction. In this metaphor, Republicans all lived in Tampa. So I whipped out the bottle and passed it around to my companions declaring, “I’m seceding from the Union. We have just elected the star of ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’ as President of the United States and it’s just too embarrassing.”
I never understood that election. I never understood why the press seemed to fall out of love with Jimmy and in love with a movie star I couldn’t stand the sight of. And I did secede. I didn’t vote until Bill Clinton came along, and I wasn’t even certain I liked him. But in the meantime, I had made another decision. The country might have gone teeny bopper crazy for a Hollywood president, but I was going to be a country of my own. I was going to run my home the way I would like the country to be run. People would be sheltered and fed and cared for, educated, encouraged, and comforted.
I wasn’t always successful, but over the years I hope I did provide some of what was most needed by others. In the end, however, I suspect that the main beneficiary of designing my own country was me. For in order to provide for others, I first had to provide for myself. In order to make others feel welcome, I had to become welcoming. In order to provide comfort, I had to learn how to be comforted.
Most importantly, in order to help anyone at all I had to become someone who could accept help, for there were times when my own weaknesses made me dependent on the kindness of others. So many things I had to learn. Running a country, even one of your own, is no small thing. It requires patience, stamina, and humility. Not really sure I’m entirely there yet.
These days I have to accept a lower position, in fact. A minority faction. Today I live in my son’s country, and my dictums don’t always make it past a filial filibuster. However, I have become an expert on surviving political storms, and I can survive another one if necessary. Which is, in fact, the point of this little homily.
There are signs and portents pointing to the outcome of this November’s election. I am believing in and when possible donating to a Senatorial hopeful in my state of Wisconsin. And I will vote. I will surely vote. I will never secede again.
But if I am once again overtaken by a storm – as so many of us have been in the all too recent past – I still have my own country to run. My own resolve to be patient and generous and loving to all when it seems needed. And I’m not alone. So many friends I have made across the years. So many who have welcomed me into their homes, so many who have invaded my personal island with the gifts of love and compassion, so many who have enabled me to cross the bridge to safety when I needed to go.
I may be stretching my Hurricane Ira metaphor a little too much here, but I think you see my point. If November goes well for us, may we extend hands to those who believe we mean them harm. And if it goes ill, may we hunker down protecting what we love and believe in until at last the storm blows itself out. Because it will. Fury like this, whether it be wind and rain or political animus cannot survive its own success. What is there to blow over when all the trees are down? Who is there to defeat those we hate seem to lie defeated?
For there are millions of us, far beneath the notice of those who would defeat us all, little tiny countries over whose borders the persecuted shall always be welcomed and comforted with good hot soup and warm beds.
As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings, “… it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know…”
So with whatever valour is left in us to give, may we go forth come November with high hopes in our hearts and a firm resolve to never give in, no matter the outcome, whether we celebrate with joy and relief or collapse amid the chaos of defeat. When it comes right down to it, we are the ones tasked with maintaining our country, the one that lives within our own doors. We’d best keep on with it.