It’s great when it’s them, not you, isn’t it?
I mean, when you see a news teaser on TV that says, “Certain snacks cause incontinence and dementia, find out at eleven if you’re at risk.” Then you tune in at eleven and sit through the inane city council meetings, the woman who was jailed for keeping three tigers and an ostrich in her studio apartment, the weather, the sports, and the water-skiing squirrel, and finally, when you’re convinced that it’s you — that you knew you shouldn’t have eaten nothing but Pop tarts in your freshman year at college — the prompter puppet comes on and says, “Hair gel.” Then she explains that a five year study at the university of Helsinki concluded that people who have a diet high in hair gel tend to be incontinent and demented.
And man does it feel good. It’s not you. It’s SO not you. Sure, you ate a little paste when you were six, and you might have built that model of the Battleship Missouri in the closet with the door shut and went kind of blind for a week or so from the glue fumes, but you have definitely never eaten hair gel, that you can remember. You rule!
Take a minute to enjoy your internal gloat.
Well this blog is like that. I am totally not writing about you. Not one of you. I’m writing about them. So don’t roll up in the comments all, “That’s not me. I’m not that way at all.” I know. Isn’t it great? Let’s take a minute and feel just a little better about ourselves, shall we?
Come with me.
First, the teaser. Here’s a comment on my blog the other day about Experience and Imagination:
— (I couldn’t reach this guy to see if I could use
his name, but if he contacts me, I’ll put it in)
I personally am an independent voter with a political philosophy similar to Andrew Sullivan (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com which is to say i am fiscally conservative but socially libertarian). I am also a person of dark skin who grew up in an area that is 99% white. I have many white friends who are from blue collar/union and traditional democratic leaning families. It is with unfortunate realization that they have often mentioned to me that they simply can’t vote for Obama simply because of his skin color. I am often flabbergasted by their honesty and they will only do it because I grew up with them and at this point they don’t think of me by my skin color. How ironic. And unfortunately for the country I often wonder how many people are there like this in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan (the swing states that can determine this election) that won’t admit to this fact.”
And there’s the rub. I’ve read it in a dozen places, people who say, “there are just some people who, no matter what they think about the issues, will not vote for a black man.”
Are you feeling a little superior? Are you feeling a little smug. Of course — you are voting the issues, or experience, or ideology — goes without saying. I stipulate that you are voting for your candidate and not voting for the other one for good reasons. I even understand if you’re Libertarian/Green/Telletubbie Party and you just won’t feel irrelevant enough unless you choose your own personal moonbat. You have got to feel good about not voting race. You have got to be pleased that you are evolved and enlightened enough to not make decisions based on skin color. In short, you rock.
But let’s talk about them.
Let’s talk about them, on their deathbed, shall we? Not tomorrow, not in two years, but oh, forty, fifty years down the line. Children and grandchildren gathered around the bed. And there they are, with their life stretched out behind them. I’ve written a fair amount about death, as those of you who’ve read A Dirty Job know. I’ve thought about it, researched it, and I’ve sat deathwatch on a couple of people as well, caring for them in their last days. I’d like to tell you that it’s all a bright light and morphine haze. I’d like to tell you that people, in their last days, are wise and forgiving and possessed of an inner peace. But in my experience, that’s just not the case.
Regrets come back. They circle in the mind of the dying like carrion birds. Even people of faith, who believe that they are forgiven, can be nagged by regret.
We all have regrets, things that we will never admit that we did, that we’re ashamed of, and that we can make excuses for, but things that raise up in the back of our minds whenever we make a sweeping statement: “Well at least I never–”
Maybe you murdered a songbird with a slingshot when you were a kid, showed your hoo-hah to the boys behind the garage, maybe you told your brother you just didn’t have the money, when, in fact, you just didn’t want to give it to him. Maybe it was the time your wife sent you out for Huggies and you shagged the counter girl with the brace on her leg in the back room at the Jiffy Mart, maybe you saw that guy get hit on Highway 280 and you didn’t stop to see if he was okay, maybe you could have done something, sometime –something to make life better for someone, but you didn’t. You might have been able to save someone but you didn’t, but only you know.
So, now it’s forty years from now. You’ve taught your children how to be good people. Maybe you’ve taught them about the compassionate Buddha or the forgiving Christ, you’ve taught them that it’s never wrong to do the right thing. But as the light dies, and you want, so badly, to go gently into that good night, you start, you jerk, like a dream where you miss a step. You’re wrenched back into ache and unsettling, because you know, and only you know, that despite how you felt about the health and prosperity of your country, you just could not pull that lever because you just couldn’t vote for a black guy.
That’s how you sum up a life of accomplishment, with a deep, wrenching feeling that you did the wrong thing. And you lay uneasy forever .
I’m so glad that none of you are that person. Let’s rejoice, shall we. For no matter our choice, we did not make it for hateful, small-minded reasons. Doing the right thing never needs to be justified.
And come Wednesday morning, after election day, you will wake up to the first day of the future of our country — a future that you made. Imagine how great you’re going to feel, how satisfied with having done the right thing.
And in the end, you can rest easy. Forever.