Just seven days ago (Wednesday, October 24th), the news outlets were all atwitter (pun intended) with analysis of the last of the three presidential debates which had happened the night before. The internet and the 24 hour news channels were flooded with video clips of the debate and the political pundits were having a heyday with projections about the Presidential election. There were map after map of potential Electoral College results, taking cues from different polls and it was declared, again and again, that the election was in a dead heat. Which way would Florida vote? Ohio? Virginia? Anxiety and excitement were at an all-time high. Political insults were being hurled right and left (pun intended again). Things were getting nasty as we headed in the final stretch of the never-ending political season. The candidates were sprinting to the finish line, spending millions in campaign ads in the battleground states and jetting around the country trying to woo the illusive “undecided” voter.
It is Wednesday, October 31st, and the election is hardly on the radar with only six days left. Cable news and websites are filled with images of destruction, the aftermath of floods and high winds and fires. There are pictures of people bailing water out of their homes or walking through the charred remains of their houses. There are photos of crumpled roads, waist high standing waters and people sleeping on cots in shelters. There are stories of people dying because of trees falling and live electrical wires lying hidden in water. There are press conferences with Republican Governors praising Democratic Presidents for responding to the crisis in a timely and humane way. Our attention (temporarily, of course) is diverted away from heated and divisive politics and is now focused on responding to the need of the millions who have lost so much in the wake of Super-Storm Sandy.
In anticipating this final week before the election, I had steeled myself for an onslaught of mean-spirited advertisements and constant political projections. I had prepared myself as a pastor to be mindful that people would feel tense and anxious, fearful and angry, in these final days. Up until Monday, the stakes had seemed so high and our country felt so incredibly divided. Now, the energy of the United States has shifted dramatically, and besides feeling grief for my fellow citizens on the eastern seaboard, I am feeling unsettled and confused. I had been prepared for another kind of intensity. I had planned for it. But my head is spinning a bit.
However, I am grateful for being here instead of where I had anticipated being. If I one can find the grace in such an enormous natural disaster, the good news is that we have all been brutally reminded of our humanity beyond our political leanings. As Americans entrenched in deep political camps, we have been so divided for so long now that I worried that we would ever see any commonality. But Hurricane Sandy didn’t see red states or blue states as she barreled towards land, and her waters and wind didn’t choose to strike a Republican household or a Democratic one. People suffered and people responded. People are still suffering and they need people to keep responding. Pure and simple.
Now I pray that we can hold onto this fragile state of unity through the next few weeks. We will return our focus on the election, and the pundits will start shouting again. The Electoral College map will return and next Tuesday night and Wednesday morning will be consumed by watching the results come in. Still I pray that we may stay here in place where we remember the humanity of the “other.”
May it be so,