There comes a time, I guess, when civic duty and personal time cross, and the result is a strong desire to say "no." I’ve been saying "yes" for so long now that it has become a habit. One of the challenges of growing older is learning to say "no."
We have made our annual trip to the beach, and I’d rather be there still, but other things demand my time. Voting, for instance. A few days after our return from the coast we voted for local office holders: County clerk, treasurer, sheriff and others. In our county those are the races that draw the greatest number of voters. It has to do with size, as much as anything. There are fewer than 2,500 full-time residents, and about half were born here, and about half are from somewhere else. Most have roots in the county, some dating back two hundred years. That accounts, perhaps, for the high turn-out for local elections. Almost everyone is related to someone who is running for office.
On voting day I was up by four O’clock. The precinct where we vote is less than a mile from our home, in the volunteer fire department building, and for some years I have volunteered as one of the official officers of election. And since I was an active member of the volunteer fire department for some years, I still have access to the building, and I usually arrive early enough to open the doors and start setting up for the Six O’clock opening.
Getting up early isn’t the hard part. Even staying at the table as long as the polls are open (until Seven O’clock in the evening) isn’t all that taxing. Of the slightly more than 100 registered voters in our precinct, somewhere between 60 and 70 per cent usually show up, especially for local elections like this one. That’s a pretty high turnout, we are told, but not more than three of us can handle. Still, by the time we close, open the ballot boxes, tally the votes (this year performed by a wonderful optical scanner) and fill out all of the official paperwork it means getting home around 9:30 or later (sometimes much later, if we have to count the votes by hand). It’s a long day, yes, but because it is important to us, because it is where we feel the responsibilities of governing ourselves, it isn’t an unpleasant job. Besides, we get to see our neighbors, share news and stories, and generally enjoy the process. It is, after all, what we as a nation wanted way back in 1776: the right to determine who will lead us, who will do the hard job of making freedom work.
Now a week has gone by, and we are nearly at another milestone day: Veterans Day. Recall that on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:00 AM in the year 1918, World War I ended with the signing of the treaty of Versailles. "Armistice Day," it was called then. It was "the war to end all wars," and it didn’t. What we have today is ours because we as a people don’t let go of our dream.
Keeping that dream alive and well demands that we do what is asked of us in support of our way of life. We can’t leave it to someone else. If we do, chances are that eventually that "someone else" will try to take it away from us. We have no choice but to say "yes," when we’re asked to volunteer our time in support of our way of life. I can’t deny, however, that I’m ready to share that responsibility. So when you get the call, asking for your time, just remember who you are, where you live, and why you wouldn’t live anywhere else.
There are so many places where you would not only never be asked, but you would be harshly treated if you tried to participate, so if you get a call asking you to volunteer, forget the word "no." Just say "I will." And be happy that you can say that.
Election Day to Veterans Day is not a very long time, but for too many people today, it’s a week they may never know.
And don’t you forget it.