Sunday, November 30, 2008

Giving the Turkeys a Break

It's too early to tell yet what may come of it. In deference to the kids' need to celebrate Thanksgiving twice, in two different households -- and to liberate them from duplicative menus -- we agreed to try something different. It was Christopher's idea, as these things often are. Recalling that years ago we developed the tradition of making eggrolls on Christmas Eve, he suggested creating a new tradition of making tamales on Thanksgiving. After all, hadn't the kids gifted me with a tamale making lesson from a chef a couple of years ago?

We agreed to a test. I picked up the cornhusks and the ingredients, enduring the skepticism of the lady at the Mexican grocery who clearly didn't see me as the tamale-making kind. The kids each brought accessories. Lori made a side. Then, rolling up our elbows, we dove into the masa and began to spread, fill, and roll; and when they were all ready, to steam.

From a culinary point of view, the results were only fair. The masa was a little thick and rubbery, and the filling was a little bland. Tamales, I realized long ago, are an art form that we have only begun to practice. As art forms go, what we made were the Tex-Mex equivalents of stick figures.

But from a family point of view, it was a wonderful evening. Together we shared a common project; together we collaborated toward a common end; together we spent the evening working with our hands, which freed our lips to tell all kinds of stories, process all kinds of news, ruminate on all manner of dilemmas, prognosticate on various possibilities, and give freee-reign to our imaginations.

I don't remember that we undertook the traditional activity of one-by-one listing an inventory of our blessings; I'm not sure we ever got around to verbally giving thanks. We simply spent a few hours together creating an evening to be thankful for. We'll have to wait until next year to see if it becomes a tradition, but as far as I'm concerned it is "a keeper". There was something perfect about it all -- even if the tamales weren't.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Fluttering Wings of our Better Nature

So now it's over. The contest (also read "slug/slime/mud-fest") that began in Iowa and New Hampshire in the depths of winter has now reached its denouement in the brilliant colors of autumn. The election returns are in. What now? Statistically, there are more delighted voters this morning than in 2004, when the President won reelection with 50.7% of the popular vote; and certainly more than in 2000 when a President was elected with only 47.87% of the popular vote. President-elect Obama's apparent 6% margin of victory in the popular vote, while certainly no landslide, suggests, if nothing else, that our nation's intransigent division is – at least for the moment – thawing.

So, again, what now? How might we seize this moment? Will we rediscover a different way of talking with and about each other that is less demeaning, less pejorative, less dismissive? Will we dredge open again long-silted channels of communication that reverence the intrinsic value of each other? Or will we continue to simply talk at each other – retreating and descending still further into our bunkers of political and intellectual isolation where words are less instruments of communication than incendiary explosives that we lob across the aisle without regard for where they land; where "dialogue" is little more than alternating monologues designed to overwhelm rather than understand or persuade; where "debate" is less about the victory of our ideas than about the mockery of our opponents?

I am tired of hearing us belittle each other. I am weary of assuming the worst about each other. I am exhausted by all the innuendos and melodramatic pronouncements about why we should be afraid of each other. Surely there is some alternative between naiveté and paranoia. Surely I am not the only one who is worn out by all this attention to each other's flaws and the determination to grind them brutally, laughingly, publicly under our heel.

Perhaps that is an unrealistic hope, but I want to believe that we are better than we have been behaving. Abraham Lincoln, on the occasion of his first inauguration, referred to the "better angels of our nature." I hope this morning finds us stopping long enough, listening carefully enough, to hear the quiet flutter of just such angelic wings. The demonic side of our nature has enjoyed free play long enough.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Odd Sentiment for Absence

It is election day, and like every good citizen, I have cast my vote.  In a matter of hours this long national travail will be ended.  Or only begun, depending on the outcome and your particular political persuasion.  At least the electioneering part will be behind us for awhile.  No human being -- at least not the kind of human being who is likely to run for the Presidency -- can wear well through all the years of campaigning that now seem to be the norm.  We weary of that much exposure to anyone.  Obama?  McCain?  Nice enough folks, I'm sure -- both of them -- but I need to see a little less of them for awhile.  

That said -- and I feel a little perverse in saying this -- there is a part of me that will find the absence of the race unsettling.  Like having a wart removed, the absence of something that has become so familiar, so reliable a part of one's experience -- even something negative -- leaves a sort of psychological limp.  Don't get me wrong:  I will enjoy the limp in this case.  But I will also notice it, and think repeatedly about what it is that is suddenly absent.

I know it won't be long before the herbicide and seed ads begin to cycle with as much competitive frequency as the political ones they have replaced, so I need to enjoy the ever so brief space between.  Rejoicing with the outcome...

...or lamenting what might have been.  Hours will tell.