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The Anxiety of Hope

I’m writing on the evening of Election Day. By the time you read this, we’ll all know who the next president will be. But today—Tuesday—all day I have felt this edgy, infectious sense of the unknown: all of us thinking the same thing and most of us fearing one outcome or another.

“Hope” seems too audacious a word after 2004.

In 2008 “hope” seems the only currency worthy of our investing.

This morning I was, by default, in charge of waking up those loved ones who always wake ahead of me. This was not part of my plan: My early-rising daughter, Linnea, for whom I’d baked madeleines the night before for the French Club Bake Sale, was lying comfortably among her pillows. When I called my older daughter, Madeleine—not named after the cookie—I found out she’d ended up sleeping late after dreaming she’d awoken early.

Slug-a-beds, both of them, I thought.

So Linnea shuttled off to school with her plate of madeleines. Madeleine met me in the voting line at Town Hall just a little after nine. Behind us was a young mother with her two small sons.

That was what I had always done—brought my kids with me to vote, lifted them up on my hip to point out the names they were too young to read, the demarcations of parties they were too young to care about and the fun levers you could press to make your vote count.

Then one day, three years ago, Madeleine was standing in line with me, entering the voting booth alone. Wait, I thought. Wait—this is a big responsibility. Are you old enough?

This morning, as she entered the voting booth ahead of me I heard the young mother explaining to her sons what they were there to do. And as I exited the booth myself, I heard her son ask if it was dark in there. No, she replied, it’s not dark.

My friend, Karen, and I were meeting our dauntingly liberal, fearlessly blunt friend, Gretchen, for lunch. We met outside the restaurant we’d chosen—it was on Gretchen’s turf. She pulled us aside before we opened the door.

“Now they’re very Republican in there,” she said, “so we have to be good.”

And she began to recount how she had, only moments before, overheard two people in the CVS talking about how they weren’t going to vote for either candidate—one was as bad as the other.

“And I was very good and managed not to butt in with my opinion—no ‘go Obama’,” she said. And just as she did an elderly couple emerged from the restaurant. The wife looked at Gretchen and smiled. Then man went to the driver’s seat and the woman opened the passenger’s side door.

The woman turned back to look at us and said, “I like Michelle.”

And we laughed and went inside.

Gretchen ordered the Yankee Bean Soup.

Driving around my neighborhood the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing who has got what sign on their front lawn. When I drove past my old house, a block away from where I live now—the house I’d sold to newlyweds in July—I saw an Obama/Biden sign. Hmmm, I thought, I had gotten such a good feeling from them at the closing. Now I really must bring them a coffeecake.

“We had a mock election in school today,” Linnea told me.

Her boyfriend is six days away from being old enough to vote in the real election. I keep trying to console him by telling him he was born on the same day as that great reformer, Martin Luther. It doesn’t seem to ease his sense of the so-close-but-yet-so-far timing of his birthday. Besides, what has Wittenberg to do with Washington?

“So what happened with the election results?” I asked Linnea.

“Faculty, 61 teachers for Obama to 17 for McCain. Kids, it was 800 to 200.”

“Wow,” I said.

In our little suburb the soccer moms wear lipstick and walk their pit bulls and their pugs. Hell, if my kids had played soccer and we’d had a dog, I’d have done the same thing. Because, even though I don’t always make it to our annual Niska-day parade, I’m kind of proud of us. And I’m not even surprised to be.

Madeleine calls me sometime after nine o’clock.

“Barack has taken Ohio,” she tells me.

I stop writing the column and go to CNN.com. She’s right. Wow. Wow.

Earlier in the day, when we were nursing omelets and coffee after casting our votes she said to me that her room-mate and she had bought champagne for tonight.

“I figure I’m either going to be drinking. . .” she sighed, “or drinking.”

I’m telling you, to hear that from the kid who used to perch on my hip while I pulled the levers was—if nothing else—unsettling. What had happened to her American Girl dolls and hot cider?

But she had a point.

Now it’s ten o’clock, Tuesday night. We’ve had a bottle of Moet and Chandon White Star stashed away for a long time. As I made dinner tonight I fished it out and stuck it in the refrigerator. If Obama wins, we’ll open it, I thought. Otherwise it goes back in the cupboard.

And by now you know—more than I do as I write this—what has become of it.

—Jo Page

jograe@yahoo.com


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