In Defense of Dubious Alternatives

Dear Will:

Across the room I can see my Voter Information pamphlet. It’s been sitting there for days, unopened. Every time I glance that way it fills me with dread. I have put off quite successfully what I can now put off no longer—I must, it seems, set aside some time to read up on the initiatives and try to determine which side’s rhetoric is less difficult to believe. Then I must go through the ballot and try to decide whether I should vote for the incompetent incumbent or the unqualified challenger. (Or is it the unqualified incumbent and the incompetent challenger? I can never remember.)

As you can probably tell, I have become a bit of a political cynic, but I wasn’t always this way. I came out of high school filled with idealistic political zeal, excited to exercise my franchise and support the democracy. Alas, the first election in which I could vote featured a gubernatorial race between the hyper-liberal guy-in-office and his super-conservative wannabe challenger. As I considered my options, it was quickly apparent that I didn’t want either of those guys for my governor. Since that moment of disappointment I have lived through dozens of elections characterized by many such dubious alternatives. And I hate it.

Part of my problem, quite clearly, is that I keep hoping for someone who represents me as opposed to some guy who primarily represents the various interests who are willing to fund his campaign. I’m not happily Republican or Democrat, I’m afraid, but rather some sort of strange hodgepodge of beliefs and passions. I’m an actual moderate rather than a candidate pretending to be one, the result being that I agree with some things, disagree with others, and can’t find a single politico who is willing to say that I’m right. It seems, anyway, that the exigencies of the modern campaign (fundraising, primarily) make it impossible for any aspiring politician to say what most reasonable people already know: that half of each party’s platform is hooey. And that polarization of positions is exacerbated by the misrepresentations and falsities on which both parties rely in order to gather votes through advertising: Too often our representatives can’t do the right thing because they know it will be twisted and used against them later on. So when I vote, I either get the baggage of one party or the baggage of the other and generally come away from the polls feeling disgruntled and somewhat disenfranchised.

But I do keep voting. Every election, no matter how many Tom Haydens or Michael Huffingtons appear on the ballot, I march down to the polling station and give it my best shot. Even though I sometimes wonder if it really makes any difference, I feel it my duty because of my respect for the institution. I love my country and believe with great passion in the principles upon which it was founded. I truly believe that the Constitution is an inspired document and remain amazed at how well it is holding us all together in spite of the crazy turns our nation has taken during the last 200 years.

I apologize if any of the preceding rant offends you. (I got a little worked up there, didn’t I?) Obviously, this is a bit of a sore subject for me to address. But when I look around the world and see so many places in which democracy has not yet taken root, I am reminded once again that it is a divine privilege to cast a vote—even when you’re dissatisfied with your options. I hope you feel the same. See you at the polls.

PW

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Pretty Heady Stuff

Dear Will:

It’s not often that a child gets to live out his or her childhood fantasy while still a child, but that is essentially what is happening to my daughter Bryn. Bryn, who is 12, is a ballerina, with quite a bit of talent (if you are willing to take the word of her various teachers over the years). When she was just 3 years old, Bryn started taking dance classes and appeared as an angel and a mouse in her ballet school’s annual Nutcracker production (which in many ways was more like a recital since the only ones in attendance were family members). I’m sure you can envision the contribution of the 3-year-old mice and angels in such a production—they stole the show every time.

Since that first performance, Bryn started collecting nutcrackers. She now has a couple of dozen (or so) of various shapes and sizes. And over the years, she continued appearing in that same annual production, graduating from angel to bon bon to flower girl along the way. All of the girls longed some day to be given the role of Clara, the nightgowned girl around whom the entire production revolves. No doubt it has ever been thus.

When Bryn’s ballet school was sold last year, we were forced to find her a new place to take her lessons. We settled on the Academy of Ballet Pacifica, Orange County’s resident ballet company, because it was affiliated with some of the most famous dancers in the world (ever heard of Ethan Stiefel or Amanda McKerrow?) and because her teachers continued to insist that she had a natural talent that might best be cultivated at a more serious conservatory.

Of course, it’s one thing to stand out in a smallish, neighborhood ballet school and quite another to try to make your mark in an academy that draws students from all over Orange County and beyond. To our delight (and my bemusement), when we got to the Academy we discovered that Bryn really is as good as we had been told. Even in a room full of hard working ballerinas, Bryn seemed to stand out.

Thus we were not entirely surprised to learn recently that Bryn has been cast as Clara in Ballet Pacifica’s December production of the Nutcracker. This production will include several professional-level dancers and is certainly a notch above anything she has done before. Rather than appearing a couple of times before family and friends at the local community college theatre, this time Bryn will be dancing several nights throughout December at the Irvine Barkley Theatre.

Pretty heady stuff for a 12-year-old, don’t you think? (Pretty heady stuff for her parents as well, I suppose.) Alas, the consequence of this great honor is that now Bryn will be dancing more than ever, with weekend rehearsals to go along with the 10+ hours of weekly dance classes she is already taking. It’s too much, really—more than I would ever stand for were it not for her manifest passion and talent.  At the same time, I am troubled by the implications as more and more of her time and attention is devoted to ballet and less to school and family and church activities. I worry about her becoming one dimensional, about her wearing out her tiny body, about her losing touch with friends and disconnecting with the variety that should enrich the life of any 12-year-old girl.

More than anything, I pray that she recognizes that she has been given a rare gift, and that that recognition inspires in her not the conceit of a diva but rather the humility of a girl who sees in her talent a direct connection with her Heavenly Father.

PW

This I Believe

Dear Will:

Do you ever listen to NPR? Over the last several months they have been running this series of commentaries from both the famous and the not-so-famous entitled “This I Believe.” It is a brief opportunity for someone to get a little personal about whatever. I figured that since NPR is unlikely to want to put me on the air, I would foist myself on you instead. You know, just like I do every month.

Here’s what I believe:

  • I believe in that magical feeling you get around a newborn baby.
  • I believe in blue jeans any time you can get away with them.
  • I believe in warm cinnamon rolls and really, really cold milk.
  • I believe the USA basketball team was robbed in the finals of the ’72 Olympics.
  • I believe in the sound of the ocean as the sun is going down.
  • I believe in lots and lots of laughter.
  • I believe in the UCLA Bruins. (Not really. I just desperately want to believe.)
  • I believe in decorating your office with your children’s artwork.
  • I believe in the sight of a mom, snuggled up with a child, reading a book out loud.
  • I believe in quiet Sundays at home.
  • I believe in occasionally having breakfast for dinner.
  • I believe in the power of really good writing.
  • I believe in occasionally letting the kids stay up late—and more than occasionally getting them to bed early.
  • I believe in the awe-inspiring National Parks.
  • I believe in laptop computers.
  • I believe in the smell of fresh cut grass.
  • I believe in peaceful music.
  • I believe in regularly setting aside your own needs to take care of somebody else’s.
  • I believe that I have no idea how the world and all its wonders were created but that for sure it didn’t happen by chance.
  • I believe that everyone should try really hard to be nice.
  • I believe in the power of prayer.
  • I believe that God knows me personally and will help my in life when I ask . . . and when I’m ready.
  • I believe in prophets and scripture and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
  • I believe in Jesus Christ.

I also believe that I have spent enough time telling you what I believe. Now it’s your turn. What do you believe?

PW