Please Vote

November 1, 2018

I remember the first time I voted. It was the presidential election of 1992. I was 19 years old, and I couldn’t wait to use my “voice.” It was still dark on that chilly November morning when I got to the old church that doubled as a polling station. There was a long line waiting to get in. I felt nervous, as I was unsure of what to do or how things would work. I carefully read and marked my ballot, being sure not to make a mistake. When I gently pushed it through the thin slit of the ballot box, I was genuinely worried it might somehow become lost. It meant a great deal to me. I remember the feeling of accomplishment and pride as I walked out wearing my “I Voted” sticker. My head was held high, as if I had made some tiny difference. I suppose I was young and naive in some ways.

I’ve changed a lot over the 26 years since that morning. I went to college, started a career, got married and had a family, went back to school, and am preparing to begin a new career. My philosophy on life has changed greatly. I’m much busier. I’m probably more cynical, and definitely more jaded. My back and knees often hurt, I’m usually tired, and I’m certainly not so eager to jump out of bed on dark and chilly mornings (or really any mornings) to go cast my ballot. But I do.

I vote — at every level, every time I can — because it is an incredible freedom, one that many of us take for granted. We definitely have problems with our government and politics. Our voting system is flawed in many ways. I have no doubt that fraudulent actions take place — originating from both sides of the aisle — but we must vote, regardless. It is a special privilege.

Look around the world at the many countries where elections are either a wishful dream, a distant memory, or a complete scam. Think about the people who live in countries where voting is so dangerous that they literally risk their lives to vote. For example, in a recent Afghanistan election, the Taliban sent out letters vowing to kill or cut off the fingers of those who vote. Yet 7 million Afghans ventured out to the polls.

According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans said they thought high voter turnout in presidential elections was important. In my opinion, that already seems like a low number, yet less than just 56% of us actually voted in the 2016 election. That ranks the U.S. 26th out of 32 highly developed democratic countries, in terms of voter turnout.

So what is our problem? Why is voting not a priority? Maybe we take it for granted because it has always been a right for everyone born in the last 99 years. Americans today haven’t lived through times when voting and elections weren’t a given. Historically speaking, however, it wasn’t that long ago that the opinions of blacks and women didn’t matter.

Are we too tired from binge watching Netflix the night before? Do the long morning lines at the McDonald’s or Starbucks drive-thru delay us so much that we don’t have time? Do we have to rush home after work to get the kids to soccer practice? Is it just not worth the hassle? Do we have so many obligations that we simply can’t be bothered? Maybe we don’t really care who governs our country — although social media, the news media, and conversations in coffee shops, elevators, and at dinner tables across our nation would indicate I’m wrong. (By the way, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.)

Maybe many of us actually believe voting is legitimately too hard. A large number of Americans don’t have convenient polling places, transportation, or other resources, any or all of which can make voting very difficult. Yet there are people in far less developed countries who will walk for miles — and sometimes days — just to cast one ballot.

When I vote today, I still feel a sense of nervous-excitement. It’s corny, I know. I still carefully read and mark my ballot. When I gently push it into the electronic scanner, I always worry that something will go wrong. It still means a lot to me, maybe more than ever. After voting, I place my “I Voted” sticker on my chest, and walk out with my head held high.

Maybe I’m still a little naive, but I do think voting — and, similarly, not voting — can make an impact. If you’re paying attention, it’s very obvious. If you’re not paying attention, I beg that you start. We have the ability to vote people in, and — perhaps more importantly — vote people out. I urge you to get out and vote every chance you get. Do it for your country, your state, your city, and your community. Most of all, though, do it do you. Use your voice. Make a tiny difference. You won’t regret it.


I’ve Seen a Ghost

October 30, 2015

I saw a ghost once.  At least I think I did.  I wasn’t a small child, it wasn’t dark, I wasn’t tip-toeing around some creepy place.  I was thirteen years old and was watching TV with a friend after school one sunny afternoon.  We saw this thing, looked at each other, then bolted out the front door and sprinted the block to his house without saying a word.

This wasn’t the first or last time I experienced what could be considered paranormal activity.  I used to experience a lot of things like this.  When I was a young child I had an imaginary friend named Bobby.  My parents say we had deep conversations and played together daily.  I realize this is normal for children, in fact my son had an imaginary friend, too.  Oddly, though, my son’s friend was also named Bobby…  Lights in my bedroom were switched (not flickered) on and off, the faucet in my bathroom turned on by itself, things in my room were moved or turned over.  The strangest thing ever was hearing someone sing “Amazing Grace” while I was trying to go to sleep one night.  But I only saw something that one time — it was a woman by the way, just like the unseen hymn songstress.

I wasn’t the only one who experienced strange things in my home.  When I was a baby my parents say that a step-ladder, leaning against the wall of my nursery because wallpaper was being hung, mysteriously fell over in the middle of the night.  A decade later my entire family was startled awake when our basement door, which was always kept closed, slammed so hard in the middle of the night that the entire house shook.

My younger sister heard sounds and saw shadows, we had several babysitters who refused to come back after their first job (one said she heard a noise coming from a closet), another close friend swore that someone called out his name while he was in our basement.  By the time I was in high school my house was kind of a living urban legend.  A lot of people claimed to have experienced something bizarre, but I only saw something that one time.

Weird things continued to happen around me until I was about eighteen, or so.  But they pretty much stopped after that.  It was about that age that I started questioning myself.  Was I really having these experiences, or was it my imagination?  It had to be real — some of it anyway — because others experienced it, too.  There were things like the faucet turning on and the lights going out, which were definitely real, but was there a logical explanation?  Did I really see a ghost, or was it some strange flash of light?  If something supernatural or paranormal was going on, was it because of me?  Did I both cause the things to happen, but also cause them to stop somehow?  Did the oddities stop happening, so I quit believing, or was it the other way around?

I worked in the residential remodeling industry for almost twenty years, and have been in hundreds of different homes over the years.  Every once in a while I would enter a house and immediately sense something was wrong.  I never saw or heard anything, I just knew something was different.  I felt like something bad had happened there at some point.  Because I had been through so many frightening things as a kid, I was never exactly scared in any of these instances, but they still rattled me slightly.  The hair on my neck stood up and I’d get a slight chill.  These rare feelings I got in clients’ homes have been the only eerie experiences I’ve had in the last quarter century.  Until something else happened recently.

My daughter is five years old.  She is smart, happy and outgoing.  She has never been afraid of monsters, ghosts or goblins.  Last week I was woken by her in the middle of the night.

“Daddy,” she very calmly said, “there was just a man sitting in my room when I woke up.  He walked out and I got up and I saw him go down the stairs and turn into the kitchen.”

“You’re dreaming, sweetheart.  Go back to bed,” I groggily replied.

“Okay.  But I wasn’t dreaming.  Can I just sleep in your room?”

Soon my daughter was silently nestled between me and my wife, but I was awake.  Lying still, I listened, but could only hear the deep breathing of the two next to me.  I listened harder.  I heard it…something.  Then again.  A creak in the floor that should really only happen if weight is placed on it.  I know about houses.  I know there are all kinds of strange noises that can be explained.  I also know when I hear something that I shouldn’t.

I grabbed the baseball bat from under my bed and crept downstairs.  What if there actually was some deranged sicko watching my daughter sleep?  When I got to the main level, I found nothing out of the ordinary.  The windows and doors were locked up.  Everything was in its place.  Still, I got that feeling that I had so many times as a kid.  The hair on my neck stood tall.

The next morning my daughter and I were having breakfast when she casually brought it up.

“Oh, remember last night when I saw that man?  I was not dreaming.”

I’m sure she was dreaming, but the believer in me has to wonder if there could be more to it.  Was there (is there) something special about me that my daughter also possesses?  Can my daughter see something the rest of us just need to be willing to allow our minds to look for?  How many things are possible, if we don’t let maturity and rationalization take over our thoughts?

It’s late as I’m writing this and my family is fast asleep.  There is that sound again — and another I’ve not heard before.  Now that chill I get.  I’m starting to believe the possibility that the strange occurrences stopped because I forced myself to be unwilling to see.  Now I’m afraid to look…