"Let us raise our heads,
So that we don't lose our way
in the tangled grass."
--Czeslaw Milosz, "The Excursion
to the Forest"
This election takes me way back to the late sixties. My friend was a strong Republican and I was a strong Democrat. One day we started talking politics and realized how different we saw things. But we discovered those differences did not drive a wedge between us. We were good friends and laughed and kidded each other over politics. I moved away after living there several years—but every election night the winner would call the loser. Sometimes we had not seen each other in several years—but on election night her phone or my phone would ring late in the evening. It was a tie that bound us together—two friends who could never agree on political issues yet had a friendship that transcended our differences and opinions. I saw her about three years ago. She was on oxygen, was battling cancer and told me she thought her days were numbered. We laughed about those phones calls that stretched back through the years. But she didn’t make it for this election—there is a gravestone in Southside Virginia that marks her passing.
But as Mr. Romney gave his gracious concession speech and President Obama accepted his win like a President—I thought about my friend in Virginia and all the arguments we had. Somehow we are going to have to put our weapons aside in this country. We’ll never agree on many things. We are poles apart in so many ways. And yet the challenge ahead is bigger than political parties. We have much work to do.
Almost all people across this country basically long for the same thing. They want the economy to improve. Many need jobs. They want us to pay down our stifling debts. They want the war to end and to bring our troops safely home. They want the thermostat of rage and rancor to be brought down to a decent level. They want those that we have elected to move beyond posturing and winning and losing. They want the gridlock of the last four years to be put aside. They want our representatives in Columbia and Washington to care more about the state of South Carolina and our country than their own concerns.
Once I heard Andrew Young tell a story about a farmer who put his favorite chickens in a pen for a cockfight. When he got to his destination he opened the back of his truck and was dumbfounded. There was nothing in the pen but blood and feathers. He kept saying, over and over, “They didn’t realize they were on the same side.”
As we write a new chapter I remember my friend and those calls we made to each other on election nights. And I remember the ties that bound us together. This is what I ask of our politicians as they get back to work. It is time for gridlock to end. This is what I envision when I think of all those that stood in long lines to vote. But we cannot leave our hard work just to the politicians. We, the people, must do our parts to make our country strong. There is something larger here than winning and losing. It is time to reach some agreements and compromises. We are on the same side. If we don’t learn this lesson nothing of consequence will be accomplished. There is too much at stake for mean spiritedness to continue.