Democracy is hard…

When our twins were five years old and on our local swim team, they were often put on the relay team. The likelihood that they would actually dive off the blocks and swim their one lap was very slim. It was so stressful to watch. The more coaches and parents encouraged them to get in the water, the more resistant they became. The last time we even let them try, one twin pointed to the other and said, “I only want to swim beside her.” We tried to explain, once again, that “that’s not how relays work,” but they weren’t buying it.  

I get it: I prefer swimming beside people, too, but that’s not how relays work. That’s also not how our country works, especially during an election year. Elections are competitive races that are exhausting. At the end of the election cycle, though, we are all supposed to be on the same team.

For about half of my adult life, the person I voted for has been elected President. When my candidate wins, I feel hopeful and excited. The other years, when my candidate doesn’t win, I feel anxious and left behind. I believe deeply in democracy, but it’s a system that can leave us feeling deeply divided. It’s sometimes hard to remember that we are all in this together.

Last Saturday afternoon, when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were named the winners, the relief I felt was visceral. I’m familiar with not loving the person who is President of the United States, but I have been fearful of the Trump presidency. I finally felt like I could breath again. Once I felt like we were safe, I started to wonder about the 73 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump; that’s more people than I can write off as a fluke.

The county where we live went 65% for Trump. Statistically, that means that people who teach my kids, fellow church members, kind neighbors, parents that we sit beside at sporting events and theater shows: these are real people that I know who voted for Trump. So, I can’t simply dismiss them as uneducated or bigoted or fearful of change.  At the same time, I totally understand why people whose civil rights are being threatened and the people who love them are deeply hurt that 73 million Americans didn’t stand up for them. I suspect that everyone feels a little bit betrayed; most of us are a bit disappointed in one another. 

One of my favorite authors, Amy Bloom, wrote a fantastic short story called, “Love Is Not a Pie.” In the story, the mother is trying to explain her unusual marriage to her adult daughters and says, “Love is not a pie.” I understand this to mean that love isn’t meant to be divided up evenly. Sharing love in different ways doesn’t diminish the whole of love. There’s enough love to go around.

I want to believe that America is also not a pie. I’m convinced that under all of our strife is the incorrect assumption that there simply aren’t enough resources and rights and freedom to go around. This belief in scarcity over abundance makes us fearful and stingy: it divides us and makes us close-fisted. When we don’t believe in abundance, we find it hard to extend compassion and grace.

I truly believe that there is enough to go around. At the end of the day, protecting same-sex marriage doesn’t take away from heterosexual marriage. People of color being treated fairly by police doesn’t transfer police brutality to white people. Allowing immigrants into our country doesn’t diminish anyone else’s citizenship. None of these things take away the rights and freedoms that we already have. 

So, if America is not a pie, then who are we as a country? I think we might be most like a marriage that is struggling. 

I remember a seminary professor saying that the couples he could help the most in marriage counseling are the ones who are hurt and angry, the ones who came into his office crying and yelling. Being devastated at least means that the couple is still invested and engaged. The couples where one or both parties are disengaged and already emotionally done with the marriage are the toughest. You can’t really talk someone back into a relationship. Convincing someone that a marriage is worth salvaging is much harder than helping someone fight to keep something precious. 

As a nation, our foundation has some major cracks in it; our origin story is flawed; our family is a mess; we’re worn out and money is tight. We’re all still actively engaged, though; there’s real love there. And love is always worth fighting for.  

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