At Ground Level

Election Season is over, but what's next? Most of us will simply and complicatedly go on. But there are some of us who never get the chance to either get engaged or see outcomes as having any impact.

By the time anyone is reading this (and frankly, that is probably a pretty small number), the fatigue and poignancy of the recent campaign advertising and the actual election results will have subsided into acceptance, and life for most of us will simply and complicatedly go on.  But there are some of us who never get the chance to either get engaged or see outcomes as having any impact.

I recently had the most active campaign season since I was an angry, agenda driven and not very smart demonstrator in the 60’s.   (Huh!  Now I’m in my 60’s.)  In 2014 I found that I liked and respected one candidate in particular and gave support in the form of financial contributions (modest), marching in a parade, being together in public with the candidate and other supporters, telling people I knew and liked that they should vote for this candidate, and by writing letters to the editor.  I care about this state, our children, and a large number of our citizens whom I feel have not been well served, and I saw in this candidate a real opportunity for leadership that would help achieve significant and positive outcomes. 

I also ran for local office.  This was my first such effort after many experiences over the years with committees and commissions that were advisory to elected officials and the public.  A few days ago I happened to win my election.  This feels really different—this feels like real “put up or shut up” time.  And while my official duties do not begin for a few weeks, other candidates and other councilors-elect and I have already started to have conversation.

But today, in an instant, I was brought back to a less self-centered reality.  A gentleman who had never before visited us at 263 Main came to the front door.  Physically imposing, he was dressed in layers too warm for the temperature of the moment but probably suitable for last night’s outside air.  He looked to have possessions inside a large trash bag, but he was also wearing one around his waist.  He got the attention of everyone in the room—employees, volunteers and guests.  It was lunch time, and he proceeded to fill his plate several times, emptying half a jar of parmesan on the pasta.  It reminded me of a comment from someone who became a friend many years back—“Watch what people put on their hot dogs—if they’ve been poor, they’ll load it up with everything.”  This gentleman, who would a few minutes later introduce himself as “Henry,” gave no indication of ever having had any wealth.

Henry didn’t last too long with us today.  After several plates of food he took a break, and in a somewhat challenging pose came up to the counter where I was eating and asked me what I thought of people who wrote certain technical books about computer hardware and software.  He produced a couple such books as a visual aid.  And pretty much before I could form an appropriate response, he launched into an explanation that I have to describe as colorful, paranoid delusion.  Shortly after lunch, Henry sort of dominated the room too much with his presence, movements and speech, and when asked by staff to calm down a little, he huffily left for “a job up north.”  We’ll see.

I am certain of a few things when it comes to Henry: he’s been staying outside somewhere; his reality is a dangerous (to him) mix of objective reality with distortions of sensual perceptions and emotional reactions; and, while very bright and very ill, he has not had the time nor inclination to pay much attention to political news.  My understanding of our nation’s history and core values is that our government has some responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves.  We also have rich tradition in the form of local efforts to help each other.  Barn raisings, benefit suppers and helping a neighbor clear his driveway of snow help “others” while elevating our own quality of life. 

The elections are over.  Are we going to get a chance to help Henry?  What roles should I play?