I voted early in this election, despite my initial resistance. I have always liked the feeling of going out on the same day as millions of Americans and casting my vote in a national/community event. But this year, in addition to having to travel out of the country on Election Day, I was so sick and tired of the campaign the week before, coupled with the post-Sandy fear that you never know what might happen, that I took advantage of the early voting poll in location very close to my house several days before Election Day.
Happily, I only had to wait 15 minutes to cast my vote. And even more happily, I did not lose one iota of that thrilling feeling I have every time I step into a voting booth. Not only did I shed the requisite tear – something I have done every time I’ve voted – but I also felt the sweep of history, the critical nature of my action and the import of every vote, of MY vote, on this country, on my children’s future, and on the shoulders of American democracy.
How’s that for a heavy weight?
On the Saturday after I voted, but still four days before the election, I had the great privilege of hearing a wonderful Jewish educator and speaker at my synagogue. She was from Chicago, and was in for the bar mitzvah of her nephew, and our rabbi had asked her to offer a d’var (learning).
She spoke about her own experience with early voting, and how she walked into the voting booth in Skokie, Illinois, and realized that before she “pulled the lever” (although of course those giant levers of yesteryear are no more) she needed a prayer. She rapidly leafed through her brain’s index of possible prayers, and came up on one that emphasized the need for grace and intelligence in making her choice.
She went on to speak about kavanah, the Jewish sense of intentionality, in the act of voting. In Judaism, there is a prayer to precede every act, so that each one of us is alert to our every action. Kavanah in traditional Judaism helps to remind one of keeping the mitzvot, the commandments, and ensuring that all the rules remain in place.
Today, kavanah has taken on more of a spiritual countenance. When we approach an action, there are moments, like our speaker’s moment in the voting booth, where we need to stop, and think about what it is we are about to do. It connects us to our head and our heart, and makes our movements intentional and therefore, more meaningful.
There are many moments in my past that I wish I could have approached with a little more kavanah. The day I screamed crazily at my children and scared them when my husband was out of town and I lost it over a simple matter – and my oldest son, 11 at the time, told me that although they may not have been doing every thing right, I was doing everything wrong.
Or the day I missed that same son’s one catch in his one-season baseball career because I was busy chatting on the sidelines rather than concentrating on his game. Or any of the thousands of moments in my life which have slid by without a real look at what has been happening around me.
As I have grown older, I have learned the fine art of stopping and looking and thinking about the big things. I have even been able to take a breath most days and be thankful for the little things. But this idea of kavanah, of infusing certain moments with something more than thanks, but with intentionality, is a new concept for me.
I am not a prayerful person, nor do I think I every will be. But taking our speaker’s idea of offering a prayer before voting, in a show of kavanah, takes the tears I shed as I walked into the Silver Spring Civic Center and grounds them in a different way. If I had been able to stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and call on some special words to help guide me in my choices, I think I would have felt even more sure in my actions.
Maybe not prayer, but poetry. Or even prose. Or Facebook memes. For certainly that’s what we’re all doing as we share those silly but actually, often profound quotes on Facebook, isn’t it? We’re striving to find some sense in our daily lives, and to stop and think for a minute about what is driving us, what is stopping us, and what is ultimately motivating us to move to the next moment.
After having heard our speaker, I had half wished I hadn’t already voted, so that I could sift through my own carousel of poems, prayers and thoughts and bring one with me to the voting booth.
Whatever the outcome of this election, I feel important because I participated through voting. I am part of the process. I am a citizen of my community, of my city, of my state, and of my country. My voice counts, and my vote counts. I walked into the voting booth with the intention to make a difference, and I did. That was my kavanah this year. Next time, maybe I’ll have the words of poet Walt Whitman in my head:
For You, O Democracy (from Leaves of Grass)
Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.
I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America,
and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other's necks,
By the love of comrades,
By the manly love of comrades.
For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.
photo by Vaguely Artistic via Flickr