When Richard Called

Richard, a volunteer for the Biden Victory Fund, called a few weeks before the election. While sipping a hot cup of tea, I was busy at the time writing letters for Vote Forward, a get-out-the-vote effort. It had been a lovely fall day, but with enough nip in the air to warrant long pants and a sweatshirt plus that cup of tea. When Richard called, it was after dusk, and I’d added a woolen shawl around my shoulders, and snuck up the heat on the thermostat.

Dave and I never answer the phone for telemarketers, pollsters, or “unavailable” numbers, but our Caller ID had identified Richard’s cause, and desperate as I was for a Biden win, I picked up the phone.

Richard had barely launched his spiel when I interrupted. I thanked him for the work he was doing, told him of my support, but added that I was comfortable with the amount I’d already donated to the campaign.

To my surprise, he didn’t argue. He coughed. A hearty, the-man-is-sick, cough. “Can you hold on a minute while I get some water?” he asked.

“Of course,” I replied.

When he returned and said, “I’m back,” I noticed how congested he was.

“Richard, you don’t sound well. Do you have a cold?”

“Yes. I’ve had some health issues for a while. We don’t usually make calls on Sundays, and I’d hoped to rest a bit, but so much is at stake, and the election’s close, so they added this day to the schedule. I’ll keep it light though. Only two or three hours more.”

“Maybe you should get a cup of tea,” I suggested. “I’m having lemon echinacea myself.”

“Sounds like an idea,” he replied, then set about completing his mission. “We’re grateful for what you’ve already given, but just so you know, if you decide to give tonight, it will be triple-matched.”

Triple-matched. Hm. I repeated the line about my comfort at my previous level of giving, but as Richard coughed and sipped his water, I thought about the many sleepless nights I’d spent staring at the ceiling while holding fervent fictional conversations with Trump supporters.

Under the cloak of darkness, I had all the right words and evidence. What answer could be given to the damage and cruelty of this administration’s policies? The separation of children and nursing infants from their mothers in detention camps. Advocacy of life, of the unborn, yet tolerance of white supremacists and defense of the assault weapons that enable mass-shootings; dismissal of COVID as nothing to fear and contempt for the masks that might protect others, even as American deaths at the time surpassed 210, 000. Alienation of allies and cultivation of authoritarian leaders. The dismantling of agencies, programs, and laws set up over decades to protect the planet and its creatures.

I thought of the new word I’d learned in the Boston Globe that described to perfection the habit I picked up in January of 2017: Doomscrolling. While I’d avoided the news since my bout with cancer because I thought it unhealthy, since Trump’s inauguration, I tap the news feed on my phone every morning, and sometimes several times a day, with the sick need to know what has he done now? Doomscrolling sets my heart pounding and feeds my fury and incredulity with each fix, yet it’s a compulsion I can’t seem to shake.

Since I was little, I’ve been a worrier. As a child, I worried about grades and getting in trouble. At work, I worried about word choice, guest lists, seating, and palm fronds. As a mom and grandmother now, I worry about my loved ones’ happiness and safety … and that’s where politics and love intersect. It is relatively new territory to add world events to my worry portfolio, but shootings, COVID, climate change, and this world of endless wars are no longer distant: they threaten my kids and their children … as they do the children of those who support Trump. Hence my disbelief when they say to me, “Yeah, I hate the guy and his trash talk, but I like what he’s doing.” I’ve heard that too many times, and it doesn’t hold up. Character matters.

Shields and Brooks, the PBS Friday night commentators, have observed that most people are tired of chaos and are looking for “safe hands.” Safe hands. Oh, how that speaks to me of refuge and peace. Unlike Trump who focuses on his needs and the present, seeking to sabotage the election, the foundation of American democracy, with unfounded claims of fraud, Biden’s plans embrace all Americans, as well as future generations whose well-being depends on our actions now. Biden is not perfect, but he’s honorable and has given his life to public service. Trump missed that piece of the job description entirely. In the search for safe hands, the choice is clear.

“Richard, you salesman you,” I said. “It’s hard to pass on that triple match. You can count me in.”

Now, after the anguish of the election and ballot count drama, Biden is president-elect. The transition has been given a reluctant green light, and Biden has nominated a diverse group of experienced people to his cabinet, so I’m breathing easier. 

Not easy, mind you; worry is still warranted as Trump continues to trample the traditions and norms of our democracy, but I wish Richard would call again to share in a sigh of relief.      

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