I tried to keep my big mouth shut. I swear I did. I avoided election-talk like the plague and dared not broach the subject with specific friends or extended family. Distrustful of my own wagging tongue that oftentimes has a mind of its own, I feared the worst: plunging head-first into a hot-headed political debate. I blame the Republican National Convention. That was the sparkplug that first ignited my otherwise dormant political voice. And on Facebook no less.
Overcome with emotion, my fingers inadvertently punched in a few choice words as the convention rolled on. The next time this nagging compulsion surfaced was during the Democratic National Convention. Again, I typed a few lines and some people responded to my posts; some nice and some not so nice. No biggie, par for the course.
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Many of my friends were noticeably and oddly silent; perhaps they’d been gawking as many often do. Certainly they were wise enough to avoid mixing politics with friendships. Others, overcome by impulse like myself, jumped right into the discussions.
The irony is that four years ago I didn’t even vote. Gasp. We were in the midst of migration, uprooting ourselves from eight years of life in Panama and had just relocated to Recession-laden South Florida, arriving a week after Election Day 2008. We hadn’t the wherewithal to exercise our right to vote.
And frankly, I didn’t give a hoot.
In 2004 we were too caught up with local Panamanian politics to be bothered. And as newlyweds in 2000, we resided in a remote surfer town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, hours away from any real infrastructure or civilization. We were indifferent and failed to get the absentee ballots from the US Embassy on time.
Shameful, I know. Tsk, tsk, tsk...
But this time is different. For the first time in sixteen years, that’s right, sixteen years, I will vote in the US presidential election. And now I’m paying close attention. We’ve lived here for three and a half years, barely survived the Recession and most of the “hot issues” on today’s political agenda hit home. This time around I pay taxes, (when we lived abroad we paid local income tax); this time around I'm concerned about future college expenses for my brood of five. And of course we all need good healthcare, especially Mom (me) after all her surgeries, accidents and with her lot of “pre-existings.”
And all around me I see relationships unravel as real issues create deep fissures between friends, coworkers and family members. Differences otherwise unseen surface as hot buttons are pressed and people’s core values and (lack of) principles are exposed, some for the very first time. At synagogue the other day I heard a few folks complain about the hostile undercurrents that recently embittered their Jewish holiday dinners.
At a time we’re supposed to come together, apologize for our follies and usher in the sweet and blessed Jewish New Year with grace and love in our hearts, families are feuding. One young woman hasn’t spoken to her mother in 8 months. “She’s off her rocker, posting hateful videos on Facebook day and night,” she sighed. Another woman was told not to vote by an aggressive powersuit half her age during a holiday meal.
I don’t know if it’s different now than it was in the previous three presidential races. I wasn't paying attention but rather keeping close watch on my own backyard.
But I’ll tell you one thing: I can't wait for November 6th to come and go so we can all once again pull on our collective rose-colored glasses and resume friendships and business as usual.