Participants clasp hands at a unity vigil in Greenport in 2015. File photo

This election is so 2020.

It is reminiscent of the Bush vs Gore presidential election of the year 2000. That was 20 years ago; have we learned nothing since then? We were a nation deeply divided. The results were contested and the commentaries about the election being stolen seemed to take on a life of its own well into the 21st century.

But the divisions were not in our face and on our phones, seemingly screaming from social media platforms. Twenty years later, it’s harder to ignore the conflicts or feel judged for expressing one’s opinions in public.

I think as a society we are too easily offended by others’ opinions and beliefs. I believe the root of the problem is not the positions we hold but rather the power we give them to define who we are and how we relate to one another.

We voted on Election Day and I am so glad we did because we avoided the early voting crowds. I like voting because we vote local and get to see our neighbors.

I miss seeing my neighbors. Pre-COVID, our neighborhood civic association hosted monthly gatherings which included meetings, food and drink and great conversations. It was a fun way to get to know each other.

These days we don’t go out as much with Johanna and especially to places where there will be large groups of people. But ever since Jo worked beside me on volunteering for Senator Rick Santorum’s presidential run in 2016 — the first year she was eligible to vote in a presidential election — she likes to vote.

Anytime we venture out, there are challenges to accessibility with walkers or wheelchairs in tow. But now there is even more because of safety protocols which we happily follow to keep Jo safe. So, when the volunteer stopped us in the hallway to explain that they had special procedures in place for people who insisted on not wearing masks while voting, my husband and I were very confused. But then, all eyes were on Jo — whose mask was dangling from her walker just touching her service dog’s head which was attentively pressed up against her leg.

My husband and I gasped and promptly put Jo’s mask on her face as we let out a nervous laugh. As we signed in at the table and reviewed our voter registration details, I noticed some differences from years before. We were confirming name and address details on an iPad with a signature in much the same way we do at doctor appointments. I appreciate the ease of checking details this way. But today was the first time I noticed that the registration had me listed as a Republican. I’m sure the former paper sign-in of years past also listed me as a Republican, but this year it stuck out to me.

I wasn’t wanting to hide the fact that I am registered to vote as a Republican, but I don’t like labels that divide people by pre-conceived notions and ideologies. In fact, I am very careful about what words follow the statement “I am” because it attaches the words to my identity — and identity runs deep to the core of who we are and how we act towards one another.

I am a Catholic Christian and a wife, mother, sister and friend. I am also an American citizen, therefore I vote for elected officials who run on platforms which support legislation to protect human life from conception to natural death. I am a good neighbor and a person who advocates for the dignity of all human life. One word listing a party affiliation can’t possibly describe all that.

But this Election Day, in the midst of this crazy year 2020, I was grateful to God for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. In our local senior center, we weren’t divided as Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Libertarians or Independents. We are families, neighbors and friends.

I assisted Jo at sign-in while my husband voted. Most people direct questions for Jo to me and I repeat the questions to Jo until people learn to address her clearly and slowly. It’s an educational opportunity for all as well as a way to cultivate patience — a virtue seriously lacking in our culture.

When we finished, my husband helped us to get to voting stations. I focused on my votes, filling in those little black dots as I listened to my husband patiently describe every detail and read the ballot to my daughter. It’s not easy to fill in those little dots especially if your hands shake from strokes and seizures. I made a mental note to self; I need to advocate for a better way to do this and to make it easier for people with disabilities to vote.

I wish I could have taken a picture of my daughter voting. My husband leaned in close to Jo’s right ear — the only one she hears in — as he patiently read everything to her and steadied her hand as she filled in the stupid circles. All the while Jo’s service dog, Rae, curled up at her feet. Jo may be developmentally disabled but she understands that life begins at conception and unborn babies with disabilities are at great risk in a society that supports abortion. Jo’s vote was a sweet moment in the midst of civic duty.

On January 20, President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated President and Vice President of the United States. Though much changes, much will stay the same.

We will all still be families, friends and neighbors living in this United States of America. Our identities as human beings run way deeper than our party affiliations and will long outlive this crazy election.

The morning after the election, I opened my Bible to this scripture. It helps me to remember where we can find peace.

Ephesians 2:14:
For He is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

Whether or not we are a divided nation does not depend on who is the president; it depends on us. Let’s do this and come together. No matter who leads the nation, we lead at home and by example as we practice kindness and respect for others.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen