Our kids are watching. They’re listening.
While contemplating the best yoga position for wallowing, I herd my girls through a busy Starbucks parking lot this morning.
Beto lost last night, girls.
You want a cake pop for breakfast? You got it.
It’s 7:31, so I still have time to feed them and get them through the front door of their school without failing completely as a mother. My mother, grandmother of the year, usually takes them to school. She always has breakfast and snacks ready. Today, however, it’s on me because I wisely took the day off.
After months of giving my time, my money, and my loved one’s time and money for the Beto campaign, I planned to take off November 7th from work. “You’ll be crying either way,” my brother advised on the phone from Dubai. “Take the day.”
Behind us a very tall and loud man seems to talk to himself in the parking lot. I notice the wireless ear-things and his scrubs and try to move the girls along.
“No, I didn’t vote,” he spits into the air. “You stood in line for an hour? You’re an idiot,” he laughed and waited for us to open the doors.
From my stomach bile, it comes out: “You didn’t vote?”
My eldest looks at me as if the man punched me, jaw ajar.
“You didn’t vote?” echoes my second-born. The guy laughs and continues his conversation with his friend in the air.
We stand in line. We get bananas and order a kid’s hot chocolate. We wait.
“He didn’t have to be rude about it,” Vivy begins mid-thought. “He didn’t have to make that face when you asked.”
She’s got that indignant look, right? Her eyebrows look like they’re trying to wrestle each other. I know that look because she got that look from me.
But, she’s not done working herself up. “He didn’t even vote?!” My baby doesn’t realize the line of groggy adults can hear her. “He didn’t even vote, and we spent all that time knocking on doors instead of spending time just us?”
Big emotions for such a tiny body.
Her younger sister handles it better in the car. “My teacher and my friends will be happy,” the kindergartner adds, and I’m relieved I don’t have to worry about her causing a scene. She had the most fun knocking with me and writing her name on flyers with a pink Sharpie. Beto’s number one fan, alright! Her veteran dad and I-divorced for four years-found each other again block walking together with her for Beto.
We drive by Beto signs still standing on the way to school. “Beto! Beto!” she chants as she’s chanted for months whenever we pass the black and white wilting boards.
After drop-off, I return to an empty house and go to Viktor Frankl on my shelf. He’s a logotherapist and Holocaust survivor. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is an ode to humanity.
This student of Freud rejected the summary that human behavior is driven by an endless search for pleasure- but, rather, that humans are motivated by an endless search to understand ourselves, our suffering, and the world around us. Frankl turned away from fixations about dreams and penis envy to study existential vacuums and despair. And after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, after losing his entire family, after witnessing the ultimate depravity of humanity, Frankl chose to study human despair and find meaning within.
So, he’s my guy right now, right?
Perspective is important. We did not survive a Holocaust; we survived a mid-term.
Frankl delivers wise warnings about our well-being. “I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what that man needs in the first place is equilibrium, or as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e. a tensionless state.”
This warning struck me because just the other day I walked in on government teacher, Mr. Kruger-Miller, explaining to a class full of seniors the tension in the process of passing laws. He flips from chart to chart and rattles off committee after committee and makes the class count. “One,” he holds up a finger, “two, three…” all the way to “nine!” he exclaims. “If you want to pass a law in this country, it has to pass nine different votes.”
The system itself is designed for tension. Our country has never been without political tension. But, for the first time in my adult life, Texas felt tension during an election.
“What man needs is not homeostasis…but the existential dynamics in a polar field of tension where one pole is represented by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other pole is represented by the man who has to fulfill it.”
One pole represents a 200,000 vote loss in a sea of 8.3 million votes, the end of a unifying and positive campaign, and the return of a senator who will most likely refuse to meet openly with Texans for six more years.
The other pole is a state which opens access to voting and rejects restrictions and discrimination. The other pole is a state which supports public schools and rejects immoral vouchers for for-profit institutions. That pole is a state which expands access to health care for children and veterans, and it is a moral state which treats applicants for asylum as humans and not animals meant to be separated, branded with phrases like “catch and release” and “infestation.”
Frankl writes, “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-even under the most difficult circumstances-to add a deeper meaning to his life.”
Beto tweeted a picture of my babies once: my firstborn on her laptop taking notes, my baby-fist in the air- waiting to ask Beto a question at one of his town halls.
He posted this: “Our kids are watching. They’re listening. And they will ask us what we did at this critically important moment.”
While it is disheartening to watch such a heartfelt campaign come so close, the suffering means that the work gave our lives deeper meaning. The friendships we made volunteering, the hours spent writing postcards to fellow Texas voters, the messages of love and support after last night all give my life a deeper and richer meaning.
What my two daughters witnessed (and will continue to witness) within Beto’s campaign will remain ingrained long after the scratches of this temporary loss heal over.