Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer


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It’s a Month Until the Election and My Stomach is in a Knot

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I’ve been thinking alot about a friend of mine lately, trying to take a page from her book.  She is one of those rare souls who is consistently serene and cheerful.  We had a conversation one day where she told me that when she can’t sleep she tunes into late-night call-in radio stations and listens to people she would never meet, who don’t share her same ideals and values.  Think truckers calling in on the topic of UFO’s or people focused on conspiracy theories and radical politics.  Personally, I would think that listening to a program that expounds values radically opposed to my own would give me insomnia or at least cause me to grind my teeth.  She, on the other hand, thinks of it more as a way to understand people different than her, which she finds interesting and calming.  Ok.

I’m sure most Americans my age will agree with me that this election cycle is one of the most tense and provocative in our lifetimes.  No matter which party we support and which candidate we have chosen to vote for, this is a process hard to watch, hard to wade through and hard to stomach.  Both sides feel they are making history by supporting their candidate and are vehemently opposed to the other as a person and as a politician.  Discourse has deteriorated into insult hurling matches; debates have devolved into manure slinging events.  There is very little informed policy substance being discussed.  Instead we listen to what awfulness can be dredged up from the past and accusations based on fuzzy facts.  Nothing seems to be discussed, it’s more disgust than discuss.

Which brings me back to my very serene and cheerful friend.  I want to be like her.  I want to be able to accept that people have opposite views than me and still be friends with them.  I want to have discussions with people who have opinions contrary to mine in a civilized manner.  I’m through screaming and turning purple when I hear someone repeat a “fact” about my candidate that they heard on the radio or read on Face Book that is not true.

I work with someone one day a week, I will refer to this person as “they.”  They will be voting in their very first election this November.  They are extremely passionate about the candidate running against mine.  They go to rallies and come back energized.  They pepper conversation with sound bites from this candidate.  At first I found this extremely provocative.  I felt like I had to counter every single thing they said in support of my candidate.  I must say I was not polite or serene about it either.  At one point I heard someone screaming and realized it was me.

Then I looked.  I looked at them and realized my words were hurting them.  I realized that this election, their first, was more than just any election, it was a huge turning point in life for them.  They said that by voting for this candidate they thought they were going to make history.  I told them that by voting for my candidate I thought I was making history too.  The light bulb went off.  We had something in common.  We just were coming about it from opposite ends of the spectrum.

What started as horrible weekly arguments now have turned into talks about how much we love our country and want the best for it.  That is our common ground.  This I suppose too, is my collective common ground with all Americans who are completely passionate about this election.  We are all Americans.  We all love our country.  We all want what’s best for it. We just have opposite ideas of what is best for it.  We all want to make history.  We just have different definitions of what history we are trying to make.  Things are now much better between us, and we can really talk about the candidates.  We ask each other questions and actually listen to what each other is saying.  There’s a large age difference between us and I think both of us are getting a better understanding of our perspectives and why we like the candidate we do.  As a result, they now show me pictures of the rallies they go to, and we enjoy watching Jimmy Fallon and SNL election skits together.

Maybe, maybe oh I hope and pray, we as American citizens, left to our own devices, will begin to feel united, will again try to work with each other, to listen, to accept.  Maybe someday all this anger will go away or at least get channeled into working together to find solutions, with or without politicians, that blend our values so that there are no winners or losers, there are just people compromising to make something that may even be better than they had hoped to begin with.

You can call me a fool or a dreamer, but I don’t care.  I’m just an American who loves her country.  On September 11, 2001, I jumped on the last train headed towards the disaster instead of the train that would have taken me home.  I realized at that moment, that I was like my father and my uncles, my grandfather and great-uncles, and my great-grandfathers.  I was an American patriot and my country needed me and I was going to do whatever I could to help because I love it so much.  Now it seems I need to have the same bravery I mustered on that day.  I will vote and I will be civilized about it, and I will be brave, for in this case being brave means reaching out to those who don’t agree with me to find common ground.