The Joy (and Ritual) of Voting

The Joy and Ritual of VotingLook, there's a lot not to like about this election, but one thing I will savor is the ritual of voting and the joy it brings. It is rituals like voting that serve as vital markers in our lives, anchoring us to what we hope is good and right, reminding us of who we want to be, and launching us back into the world. My own voting ritual starts with my love of driving up to my local polling place nestled deep in my neighborhood, reached by traveling familiar roads. There I encounter the tiny parking lot, often filled with cars, sometimes overflowing, and having to figure out just where to park. The small number of spaces, the tight fit in-between the narrow white parking lines, the people maneuvering to get in and out of the lot, all makes this a dance I could never do alone, only with others.

As I walk up to the polling place, I am greeted by a cluster of volunteers, each standing there, welcoming and gently cajoling would-be voters. The colorful signs they hold, the handbills they press into your hand, the voting guides they suggest you take, all these are signs of life – of people making their case, of an unfiltered demonstration of caring, of a belief in hope. For some years I always tried to avoid this part of the ritual, attempting to sneak by, without notice, much like a kid avoiding those friendly adults at dinner. But now – now I am sure to make eye contact, offer a hearty hello, lend a smile. The cacophony of voices and perspectives and signage reflects a kind of beauty, a genuine engagement with one’s senses and mind.

Once inside there are the lines, where people wait patiently (and not so patiently at times) to vote. For years, I often stood there worrying whether those lines would make me late for work in the morning or dinner at night. But, in time, I have come to silence my anxiety about these things, and I now relish being with other people who share a common desire to engage. In that line, we are not automatons of public life simply following directives from others, or mere data points in a public opinion poll, or some mass monolithic aggregate; nor are we reduced to being “representatives” of some single group or voting bloc or idea or complaint. Rather, we are individuals who, together, reflect shared aspirations and concerns and desires. Standing there we maintain who we are as individuals, and the potential of who we can be together.

As the line moves along, we are requested to “sign in,” where the voting ritual is narrowed to you and the volunteer behind the table; then, when we vote, we stand alone, almost as if we are in a public confessional to express who we support. Once done, we move to the side to let others proceed, and we are offered the little sticker, which often says, "I voted!" and may have some semblance of a small American flag displayed on it. Moving from the voting booth down to the person who holds the little stickers is like moving through a public communion -- once offered, it reflects an act of consummation.

When I leave the voting place, after I have once again navigated that tiny parking lot, I am struck by how many people keep those little stickers on throughout the day, like a badge of honor. When we catch those others in our line of sight, we may have voted differently from one another, but there is a sense that we share something in common beyond our vote.

We often push rituals aside in our lives. We may say we don’t have time for them, or that they’re not all that important to us. Or, maybe we have become cynical about them, or even numb to them. But rituals are vital in our lives because they help to give shape to our lives. They remind us of what, in essence, is important. They call us back into a space – both physical and otherwise – which can seem closed to us. Rituals help us to halt, even if for a moment, all the commotion, complexity, and craziness of the world around us. They often provide a safe and welcoming place, and yet a challenging one, too. And there is a mystery to them -- something inexplicable that holds meaning and purpose in our lives that cannot exactly be put into words.

When we lose rituals we can feel at loose ends. We can go through the day, through a week, through large swaths of life, missing something.

Of course, the notion of rituals can seem odd when it comes to elections. Elections are filled with all sorts of noise – some pleasing, many not. There is a practicality to them – we need to govern ourselves. They can be rough-and tumble, and not for the faint of heart. There is much improvement we seek in our politics and public life, and we urgently need to get to those matters. And we will.

But, today, I wish for you simply to remember your own ritual of voting and the joy it can bring. And I invite you to share your own experiences below, and will share some of my favorites on Facebook and Twitter.