Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Election Day Brought Another Pain in Focus
But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the places where something is still suddenly too much.
It built up through the day, and, thinking back, even before.
A week or so ago I received a political mailer for Ethan noting he hadn't voted in an election recently and shouldn't miss his opportunity. I remembered that two years ago he was in Winston-Salem in a boarding house where he could be transported back to his doctor's office for care after breaking his back in a car wreck. He wanted an absentee ballot to vote for the presidential race, but he gave me the wrong address so he didn't get to vote. By last year he was surrendering to his addiction and couldn't have cared less, even if it had been an important voting year.
All day yesterday as we assisted voters, there was a steady stream of little things.
One of the other judges mentioned taking his son and his mother to vote during early voting. It was his son's first time to cast a ballot and his mother said after voting, "Your grandpa would have been so proud." That hardly seemed to register at the time and I focused more on the loss of his father than the presence of his son.
But there were young men coming to vote whose style of dress, manner of movement, or even just general size kept triggering reminders of Ethan. There, my mind would say, that could have been him... or that.
Then a family with two grown sons, one voting the first time and one in his 20s, came in to vote together. The easy affection and teasing among them brought my own pain closer to the surface. I never voted with Ethan. He was never interested but the one time. I should have gone to Winston and brought him home to vote. It probably wouldn't have changed his life, but it would have given me that memory to treasure.
Finally another judge's son came into vote alone and she slipped around and gave him a kiss and a hug. One of those mom and son moments. He voted and left, tuning out her teasing remarks about fixing her some dinner. "He never listens," she smiled.
"How old is he?" I asked, poking at my own pain without even thinking.
"Twenty-four," she replied.
"Ethan never made it to 24," I said as tears slipped from my eyes. I realized they probably graduated together. Her son probably knew the troubled teen that was Ethan. Although I felt guilty about making her uncomfortable, I couldn't help myself. In a few moments I was able to excuse myself to repair the damage. I've known her for years and she knew about Ethan, but the other judges probably wondered what had gone on.
Afterwards I realized I shouldn't have been surprised. All too often something that never meant much to me before will knock the wind out of me. An autopsy on NCIS, a police drama featuring a death notification, actors portraying a mother and son, or the not-quite-right emotions of the character whose son has been murdered do it on TV, and books are almost as bad. Then there's real life -- a friend with her sons, someone Ethan knew with a real life, people I don't even know doing things they never think twice about and suddenly out of the blue that's the one thing I won't be doing with Ethan and I have to turn away.
I sit here this morning knowing that for the rest of my life there will be these moments filled with too much pain, too much regret, too much "I wish" and "If" and "Dammit life isn't fair." Knowing that, I dry my face, take a few deep breaths, and look for the focus to keep moving forward and walking the path I've been given to walk and treasure what I have been given.
Sometimes it feels my life and friendships are filled by souls battered like my own and, while it's painful sometimes to run into those who are innocent of this kind of grief, at the same time I want to shout at them in the most mundane of activities: "Treasure this moment! Not everyone gets it."
Even on Election Day.