I will never forget the first time I voted in the United States. It was November, 2008, and the citizens were deciding who would take the Oval Office for the next four years.
I woke early and dressed carefully, paying attention to the reverence I felt for this special day. You see, as a Permanent Legal Resident, I’d had the responsibility of paying taxes for years, but I’d yet to experience the privilege of voting that comes with the promise of citizenship. I could hardly contain my excitement.
As I neared the polling location and saw the lines of people out front, to the side, and around the back of the building, I could hardly believe my eyes. Fighting back emotions, I took a moment to consider the significance of this day. I reflected on how well I’d done on my citizenship test – earning a 100% I might add – and how very proud I was to take the oath at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential museum.
Nervously, I checked my purse again, ensuring my identification was in order. Of course it was, it was right where I’d left it the last time I’d checked. Geez.
The mood of the people was palpable and so much, so very much, was riding on this day.
Taking my place in line, I noticed how most folks seemed patient, how many shifted their weight from one foot to another, and that quite a few passed the time chit-chatting with others nearby.
Roughly four people ahead of me, there he stood: Mr. Notice-Me. Mr. Impatient. Mr. tap-tap-tap his foot so everyone around would know how important his time was. As if ours wasn’t.
He did his best to engage others in his commentary about the inefficiency of the system, how sorely lacking our Township for not having “enough” voting booths, at the fact that many of the poll workers were pensioners who moved slower than molasses-in-January.
I saw him trying to catch my eye and suck me into the conversation; I looked everywhere but at him. I didn’t want his negativity to taint my special day.
Finally, he couldn’t take my silence any longer and said – loud enough for many to hear – “You’re so quiet, how can you be so content just standing there?”
This time, this time I looked him dead on, smiled warmly and said: “Sir, I’ve waited years to stand in this line. You see, I’m a new citizen and this is my first time voting here and I will happily stand all night and into tomorrow if I have to.”
There was a sea of delighted “Congratulations” and “Wow, that’s awesome!” comments that surged around me. But I don’t mind telling you, it was with pleasure that I accepted his hand and his humble words of “Welcome, point well taken.” He was oddly quiet for the balance of our time together.
In May of 2008, seventy-eight of us (from thirty-four countries) took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America and stepped forward as brand new citizens right here in Grand Rapids, MI. It signified the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
We’ve got 60 more days of promises, campaign ads, documentaries and debates to slog through. But no matter that, I will happily take my place in line come Election Day.
“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
―Larry J. Sabato, “Pendulum Swing”