undecided…

November 3, 2004

it didn’t really feel like a november morning. the air was warm and you could feel the excitement all around, even before we got to the polls. we moved a year ago to our little green house and this is the first time we have voted at our little school precinct.

there’s been lots of talk about this school as josiah is getting closer and closer to kindergarten. we live in an old richmond neighborhood with lots of elderly people whose homes are now their havens. it’s been a long time since the joy of children playing has filled the street, since they had trick or treaters, or since the lawns have been littered with bikes and balls. the trees are so tall and they are finally shedding their leaves like they have done so many years before. this quiet little street is changing like the leaves. the ghetto isn’t far now, sometimes we hear gunshots late at night, i know the old people are afraid.

so naturally, we are concerned about this little school that could be josiah’s. i’ve never even been there so i’m anxious to learn more about our community, to mingle with the neighbors i don’t know, to see the school, to contribute to the place where i live.

we drove down the road with our windows down, i love this place, i love how it feels. i just can’t do suburbia, i love a place with history, i love a place where people are buying their first home, where people have lived for 50 years, a place where someone can see hope when others just don’t. i always feel dreamy during fall anyway, i don’t know why. maybe it’s because i grew up in a seasonless place and i always secretly hoped i would live where the leaves change. this just doesn’t feel like the ghetto, it feels hopeful.

josiah and i chatted about our day, and made our way to the school. there didn’t seem to be too many cars so i didn’t think it would take too long. an old african american woman greeted us as we walked up, she placed a sticker right on my left breast and said, “oh honey, you vote for john kerry now dear.” i smiled and told her i would. we passed a long line of others handing us papers and asking for our vote. we entered to find a very long line, lots of older people, and young women, predominately african american. i am explaining the process to josiah as we get into the line. he’s seems interested and asks lots of questions. before long my boys are entertaining the people in the line with their questions and games. the people look tired but content to fulfill their civic duty. everyone is chatting, discussing the turnout, and i am struck by the patience and sense of community.

i remembered the last time i voted, we lived in a nicer area. there were 15 booths, you were in and out in about 5 minutes. this school had 4 booths, all from 1950. they were the kind that have the big red lever that open and closes the curtain while it punches your vote. everything is slower, not as fancy and the people don’t seem to know the difference. it almost represents the differences in the ways the people live their lives, the opportunities they have, what they have to offer their children. i look at the pictures of the kids on the wall. i just start thinking about josiah and his future. it feels wrong not to invest our time and energy in this place where we live, in the kids, not just our own. but part of me knows that this might be at the expense of josiah. but am i just teaching a different value? that maybe we work towards bettering a community for all? i think about josiah being a minority. i wonder if we would be received into another culture. one that has been wounded by my race, one that still isn’t integrated in our shared community. my heart starts to feel heavy, i feel very conflicted and kinda sad.

and then i glance up to see the old ladies smiling at my boys, talking about their own grandchildren, telling stories.

i casually ask josiah who he would vote for, “george bush or john kerry?”

“i just don’t know mama.”

“so you are undecided?” the whole line of people starts to laugh.

we go in the tiny gray booth, jack, josiah and i. i vote and the boys proudly hold their hands out to receive the “i voted” stickers. the same line of volunteers we passed when we came in thank us as we walk out.

“i hope my guys wins.”

“me too mama.”

i get in my car and call jorge.

“babe, i didn’t think the school looked that bad. the neighborhood was so great.” says jorge.

i smile and drive away, are we being called to this place? i don’t know. but everything in my life seems to be calling me to more…

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