My Election 2020: The In-Between

I lie awake at 3:50 am on the morning of an American presidential election.

The cynic in me strongly fears the hate to come in the next 24 hours and beyond. But I have this tiny kernel of hope. And it’s not based on a candidate but on the thousands of voters that threaded through a parking lot on Saturday.

Early voting was open at two locations, and my husband and I chose one Saturday. Delayed by a bad car battery, we got to the polling place about thirty minutes after voting opened. We began on a sidewalk. Beside the main thoroughfare. Not even in the parking lot.

If you’ve ever read this site, you know I am an anxious person. There was not a single moment in that line when I felt worried about violence. Reflecting afterward, I thought maybe I should have been more on guard. Maybe.

The line snaked into the parking lot of a big building and paraded around two sides and a bit more before turning on its heel and winding all the way around the building. People chatted. Some for each candidate. But they kept their voices conversational. Dogs and toddlers endlessly entertained the masses. And people greeted acquaintances as the line doubled back.

Some dragged chairs along. Others, blankets or books or children. One in a pair would sometimes disappear only to re-emerge with fast food sustenance. People held the line for bathroom breakers.

I chatted about the Yankees with a man whose political beliefs couldn’t be further from my own. I know this because he spent a good while quietly spiraling into rhetoric with another voter directly behind me.

Five hours and forty-five minutes. That was how long we walked that line to cast our votes. And it was not miserable. It was not hostile. Indeed, it was frequently adorable, humorous, and celebratory without ever being openly for or against anyone.

Last Monday through Sunday, our home had power loss due to an ice storm. We weren’t alone. Many in that line were struggling with all manner of private hardships. The stressors of race (particularly for people of color), election, pandemic, and economy were all present.

From what I’ve read in the press, we should have been balanced on a blade. We should have been at fisticuffs and throats. We should have had guns cocked and been ready to loot.

Herein I find my hope for this election. Not in dire warnings or free press or a candidate. Certainly not in polls. But in the America in between. In there between left and right, between policies and politics, between caricatures of opposing vagaries—that’s where the ideals of America still live.

For places and people who experience violence today—and I know it could be any of us—you have my heart. But maybe the in-between will conquer, as it does, quietly, unobtrusively, without a fuss. Maybe the in-between will not only be the backbone of America today but its very flesh. One can hope.

The Social End Matters

We know that pandemics have a social end and a scientific end. Increasingly, we are told that Covid-19 may not have a scientific end, at least not for a long, long while. Increasingly, I see a social end to the pandemic.

My common pantry items are in stock and available. Headlines have veered toward politics and social justice and other goings on in the world. I spot fewer people walking, running, and biking in the neighborhood. Mask wearing in public spaces has steadily decreased from its own peak. The church I attend will begin offering an in-person worship assembly soon. I’ve received emails begging me to send my children to baseball camp and arts camp and Bible camp. There’s a schedule for the local high school to resume marching band activities. The sun shines. The birds sing. The Starbucks serves. And the world has moved along.

I read recently these words, though I could not find them again to link: society has decided that there are things more important than public health.

In other words, public health matters but other things matter more.

That statement was both convicting and convincing. For a minute. But the statement sees public health as a one-dimensional matter based in Covid-19. Cancer screenings are a matter of public health. Vaccinations are a matter of public health. Both have receded in the past few months.

Preventive medicine of all kinds are matters of public health. Loneliness, isolation, depression, and anxiety are matters of public health.

Racism is a matter of public health.

Whether considering the mortality rates of black women who give birth or black men who drive cars and walk on the street or the disparate impact of Covid-19 on black populations, public health is implicated and racism cannot be avoided.

What if we who have the privilege to do so presumed positive intent? What if we presumed that the mother with her children at the grocery store without masks is doing her level best? What if we presumed that the guy wearing a mask isn’t judging the one without a mask? What if we presumed that protesters made informed decisions about their protest activities?

What if we presumed that saying “I can’t breathe” means a person cannot breathe?

What if we never even got to that point?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t even have all the questions or the right questions or best questions. I only know that thinking on these things helps me put in perspective the social end to the pandemic that is Covid-19.

It is not that people have forgotten. Not that they are unaffected or ignorant. Not that they do not mourn. Not that Covid-19 or its devastation stopped mattering.

It’s not that risk tolerance for Covid-19 has magically ballooned.

It is, I think, that risk tolerance for everything else re-entered the equation. We remembered that things besides Covid-19 also matter. Can we now and indefinitely risk the job? The chance that cancer is back? The black hole of isolation in depression? Can we now and indefinitely risk a generation of lost education? Or mostly eradicated diseases rebounding for a whole generation? Or the death of citizens at the power of police?

Can we now and indefinitely risk more avoidable deaths from the sum of all things not Covid-19?

So Covid-19 becomes one more risk we hope to avoid, we teach against, we practice against. It becomes one more biological threat in a world full of biological and social and other physical threats.

I have trouble discerning threats. Anxiety skews my vision so that mundane events and tasks sometimes feel highly threatening. My internal relative threat index is broken. When everyday things seem to carry enormous risk, there’s no good scale for extraordinary things.

A trick to empathy is to recognize that your threat index won’t match everyone else’s threat indexes and that is the point. Mine looks different because of mental illness. It is very subjective to my mental health. Another’s will look different because of factors such as age, race, compromised immunity, disability, socioeconomic status, or a billion other variables. Our threat indexes will look different given different scenarios based on lived experiences, constructs handed down generationally, and the threats themselves.

But an individual threat index cannot be invalid. It exists. It impacts words and actions. Whatever influences it, the threat index is real. The work is in what we do with the index.

It has taken me a long time to accept that my threat index is valid simply because it is mine. And that my work is to remove the lens of anxiety (and other lenses of bias) so that I see more clearly.

Some people have a variety of lenses that skew their threat indexes, make them see threats that are not objectively discernible. Others have more objective or evidence-based lenses crystallizing their threat indexes. The first group would do well to pull away those skewing lenses and reassess. The second group sees more clearly the path to safety.

What lenses are currently skewing your perception of threat in the world?

What are you going to do about it?

Because there is no contest. Not in threats and not in things that truly matter. Cancer screenings matter. Preventive healthcare matters. Octogenarians matter. Jobs matter. Covid-19-avoidance matters. Black lives matter. They are not in competition. No one should be stacking them side-by-side and comparing how much each matters. They matter intrinsically.

Saying one thing matters does not exclude other things that matter. Saying I like ice cream does not preclude me from also liking cookies. Saying breast cancer funding is important does not imply funding for other cancers is unimportant. Saying black lives matter does not exclude other lives from mattering. In each example, the speaker has a subject. Don’t expect them to include every other similar subject in their talk. Respect the subject, don’t change it. Respect the speaker, don’t silence them.

If I work on me–my hangups, my biases, my prejudices, my lenses–and you work on you and yours…well, we become two fewer threats in the world. And becoming less of a threat matters.

Additional Reading:

Vox, 20200606

Racism Review, Syllabus Project