Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Patriotic Pride

In about an hour I will leave here to go vote in my fourth Presidential election.  It seems to small when I try to put it into words, but it's not.  It's huge.  It's huge for any American who chooses to partake of their right to vote for their government, but for me, right now, it's even bigger.

Twelve years ago(ish), I voted in my first Presidential election.  I was a senior at Eastern Illinois University and recently started dating the man that would become my husband.  I voted on campus, and then promptly drove back to my battalion commander's home in order to assist in some planning for our Army ROTC pancake breakfast that was coming up.  That was Bush vs. Gore.  And as I recall, we really didn't know for quite a while who was really going to be the winner (thank you Florida).  {{why do I get the sneaking suspicion that this election may prove to be the same?}}  It felt neat to vote for something so big for the first time.  I think I thought I was a big shot.  My how our perspectives change...

Eight years ago, I sat at our dining room table in our home in Ft. Richardson, Alaska, going over our absentee ballots from our home of registry--Illinois--with my husband.  "Who is this Barack Obama running for Senate?" my husband asked.  I replied with what little I knew about the Senate race in Illinois that year: that the Republican nominee for the seat had dropped out of the race on account of a recently publicized sex-scandal and that they had brought in some guy from Maryland (who somehow owned land in IL which thus made him eligible to run for Senate from my state) by the name of Alan Keyes (at least that was what I could come away with...Keyes story was hard to follow for me).  We both agreed that voting for someone to represent our state who was NOT FROM our state seemed hypocritical, so we voted for Obama.  The Presidential part of the election mattered that year to me, as it should have, but my choice was more clear cut.  I will say this, by this point we were parents to our oldest son.  We had seen friends sent off to both Afghanistan and Iraq and knew that inevitably, Steve would be too.  If those two things don't open your perspective on who or what to vote for, if not clarify it, then something is wrong with you.  My "first time" voting for President made me feel cool because I was 21 and a "with-it" college student."  This second time, who I was had changed thus who I considered voting for changed too.

Four years ago, we sat at that same table--this time located in a stairwell apartment in Bamberg, Germany--and again filled out our absentee ballots.  My husband had just returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan, and we were now the parents of two energetic and bright boys.  Again, our perspectives had changed.  After you've said goodbye to your soul mate for 15 months, full well knowing he's going somewhere dangerous to not only ensure that our country can keep it's liberties, but to assist in bringing those same liberties to those suffering under tyrannical rule, well...it's real.  It's beyond just saying thanks to those who have guaranteed our freedoms, but living that thanks daily.  And all those "red messages" I had received during that deployment--emails informing you of casualities within the unit--made it so much more real that by not voting, by not educating yourself about who and what you are voting for was a spit in the face to those who died and to those to whom those "red messages" were delivered in person, with a folded American flag.

So now I sit here about to vote for President for the 4th time.  We are parents to 3 boys and daughter somewhere in India whom we have yet to meet.  We've endured 2 deployments and are in the throws of a 3rd.  My husband had been in literal near-death experiences.  We've been to memorial services for fellow servicemembers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  We've seen the less publicized sides to all this as well: high divorce rates, families torn apart, suicides.  But we are constantly reminded of blessings too.  It's a bittersweet but awesome experience, this life we are blessed with.  Not only do our perspectives change but if we are lucky enough, we have friends along the way who warmly challenge us to understand why we take the certain stands we take.  After all, if you say you believe strongly in something, know WHY you think that, don't be ashamed, and be able to kindly dialogue with others--even those who disagree with you--why you believe what you believe.  That is the beauty of our nation; to be able to say, "I can see that you are passionate about your beliefs and I can understand WHY you believe that way, but I do not, yet I chose to treat you with love and respect and humbly ask that you do the same."

I cast my vote in person this year.  Thank God we have the ability to do absentee ballots, but there is something inherently beautiful and American about being able to walk into a polling place proudly and cast your vote.  When I have been forced to vote absentee in the past, while I am grateful, I am always saddened a bit.  Dropping your ballot in the mail somehow lacks the thrill of patriotism that stepping behind the curtain holds.  In my little home town, election days is usually chilly.  The same ladies are there year after year as judges: the Wagner sisters and Ochs' sisters-in-law.  I enjoy seeing them and the handful of other neighbors who are voting at the same time as me.  It draws me back to tradition, to history, and into something much deeper than my own right to vote.

I have had the blessing to live in different states and in a different country.  My husband has lived in 2 other countries as well.  Germany was beautiful, it was serene,  but it was not home and I was constantly reminded in many small ways that although I love to travel, America is my home and America is where I will return.  It also reminded me to look beyond the frontal images of who is running for office as their motives can sometimes be well-hidden but sinister.  See the remains of WWII on Germany's landscape, and that thought is not far off.  Korea reminded my dad--who fought there--and my husband who served near the DMZ for a year that if we cannot see past our differences, it can literally tear us in two.  And Afghanistan...he has constantly said that if a tour there doesn't brand the importance of your freedoms and rights into your psyche, nothing can or will. 

So today, as I go into vote in little ole' Ste. Marie, I refuse to see potential democrats or republicans, Obama or Romney supporters.  I chose to see Americans and only Americans.  And whatever, tomorrow brings, America we will still be.