A Civic Sacrament

The morning hints of a crisp fall day that we Southerners dream about during the dog days of summer—clear blue sky, a chill in the air, and tinges of color appearing on the tips of oaks and maples. This reality stokes the energy I already feel tingling beneath my skin as I sit behind the wheel of my car, taking it all in. When I turn into the shopping complex that accommodates the early voting location closest to my house, I feel the energy surge.

Unlike my two sons, this isn’t my first time to vote in a presidential election—by my count, it’s my ninth. That first time I stood in a short line at a weathered clapboard community center near my childhood home, ready to make my choice between Vice-President George H.W. Bush and Governor Michael Dukakis. I confess…I’d probably given little thought to who would receive my vote. My parents consistently voted Republican, so I followed their lead.

I followed the lead of others in many subsequent elections. Naming that feels like a confession, to which I would like to repent. I am not proud that I obediently followed the madding crowd, that I failed to value my vote as an expression of my voice, and that I neglected to engage thoughtfully in the democratic process I am honored as an American to enjoy.

A dozen or so years ago I began to pay more attention. I started listening to candidates, noticing those who fueled fear and those who spoke of hope; those who sowed division and those who spoke of unity; those who alienated the “other” and those who spoke of equality. I started watching candidates because a person’s character, which is much more than mere personality, matters. After all, character matters in my faith leaders, my mentors and teachers, my friends and family, so why not in my president? And I began to consider—who and what was I aligning with by my vote?

“Conscientious, deliberate, and well-informed voting is voting one’s conscience,” wrote the late Theodore Hesburgh, priest and president of the University of Notre Dame. “We make the world we strive for and want to see ever more real by our act of voting.”

My vote, exercised in the collective mass of others practicing well-informed voting, has power.

Hesburgh described voting as a “civic sacrament,” explaining, “By voting, we as U.S. citizens commit ourselves to the American Experiment; to the never-ending project of forming a more perfect Union.”

I consider all who have been devoted to this American Experiment for more than two centuries, stretching from the first electors who cast their votes for George Washington in 1789 to Thomas Mundy Peterson, the first Black American to vote after the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870, to the first women to vote after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, to my husband and me, and now to both our sons, old enough to cast their first votes in the 2020 election.

It’s noble. It’s inspiring. And it’s also risky. I’ve never felt this as deeply as I have during this campaign season. I am aware that my decision to thoughtfully select the candidate I will support may provoke those who prefer group think. It may alienate me from some in my family, my church, and my circle of friends. It may rouse concern about my position on issues that are “deal breakers” for them. And it will potentially lead to the end of some relationships. The vitriol spewed on social media has alerted me to the possibility of this bitter end. Regardless of the risk, I am committed to this civic sacrament.

As I walk toward the entrance of the polling center on this pristine fall morning, I’m surprised to see the length of the line. It’s the first day of early voting, and I’m clearly not the only person eager to cast my vote. I walk alongside the procession of people as I seek the line’s end, noting their masked faces and the six-foot spaces between each voter, stretching the line even longer. Everyone seems relaxed and at ease, willing to wait for the polls to open.

I take my place behind an elderly woman in a motorized scooter, who turns to me and asks, “Have you ever seen anything like this?!” “No, ma’am, I sure haven’t,” I reply. “Me either,” she says, with a tone of astonishment. Hesburgh’s words return to me, stoking the electric current running beneath my skin: “By voting, we commit ourselves to the American Experiment; to the never-ending project of forming a more perfect Union.” It is an honor to stand with my fellow citizens as we eagerly await our opportunity to vote.

Weekly Editor

Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Susan and Tim, her husband of 26 years, are adapting to an empty nest since both of their sons are now away attending college.nbsp