Most people I know are worried about Tuesday's midterm elections and what they will mean for a rapidly changing world. Some are working phone banks, canvassing their neighborhoods, or volunteering in storefront campaign offices. Others just hope. Many of us have simply grown cynical, afraid, and disheartened. Every day brings one more horrific story of the decline of empathy, connection, and optimism and the rise of hatred. In the face of that, we’re left feeling helplessly stuck in a bad dream.
Nothing I write here can change the current politics of our nation or the world. I can’t event claim to be one of the dedicated souls who spends my time as a social activist or even writes more than a couple of emails a year to my representatives in Washington. Still, I ache deeply every day as the newspaper greets me with another example of hatred run amok. On my way out into the world in the morning, I push the radio button away from NPR now, just to avoid another barrage of the unthinkable. And it’s not just the station that plays old James Taylor songs that saves me.
I am in awe that we all step forward each day to do our best for each other.
Like most of the people I know in this last year, what helps me is focusing on service. It’s not the formal, selfless kind of service we associate with Mother Teresa or the Peace Corps, but simply offering each other help and connection. In short, I find myself regularly turning toward people instead of away from them. I am touched by the work we all do to live honestly, earnestly and responsibly, to lend a hand or an ear, to simply be present in each other’s lives.
When I was 18, and not long out of high school, I felt the angst and fear of politics gone wrong for the first time. A boy I’d known in high school had been killed in Vietnam and Nixon was still sending more to fight a war that was going nowhere for anyone. I was scared and disillusioned and it was the camaraderie of my equally frightened friends that saved me. We were united in our worries about what would happen next.
It isn’t exactly heartening to be so much older and a little wiser. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. But the cynicism I feel about politics isn’t mirrored in the feelings I have for my friends and family and co-workers. More than ever, I am treasuring the moments we have with each other. Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation with someone at work—maybe even a person I’ve just met—I can feel tears coming, that tightness in my throat when I think I might cry. I am in awe at the ways we all step forward each day to do our best for each other.
And the examples are countless. My best friend Mary comes to my house every single day to feed my mama dog and her nine puppies before they go out in the world to be service dogs. Jodi writes loving texts to her children, reminding them that she is here, urging them on. I am especially lucky these days to work with my dear friend Kim. I watch her help every single person who crosses her path. She sees something in them, makes them laugh, does them a favor, encourages them to keep going.
Disappointment in the larger world has made me so proud of the smaller one. I see good will, generosity, and deep love everywhere I look. It has always been here, of course, not caused by crazy politicians. But it gives me such hope. At the college, I see people talk about real ways to improve the lives of our students. In difficult conversations, we grapple with better ways to engage those who have been traditionally left out of the system.
Practically everywhere I turn, the people in my world are living with huge hearts. And with those hearts, we offer help, we listen to each other’s pain, we hold each other close. These are hard, weird times, but we really do have each other. I am a witness to this and a lucky recipient. This can't change politics, but it can change us. Every good deed extended toward us reminds us to pay it forward. We are committed to each other and, in times like these, it is that commitment to love and serve each other that will save us. Mark my words.