This I Believe

Whitney - Marlton, New Jersey
Entered on February 3, 2007

My mother is an avid gardener, bird watcher and “see-the-beauty” Sunday driver. When we were kids, she taught my brother and me to survive in the woods but never to hunt.

One day, during the 2004 election season, my mother called to say she was ending her decades-long affiliation with the Republican Party and joining the Green Party instead.

“The president disgusts me, the war disgusts me,” she declared.

But, I believe her disgust grew from something larger.

Not long before, she’d taken on her local Republican-backed school board over the development of a patch of land she adored. Home to a fox den and a small stand of oaks, the school board wanted to build a new middle school there. “It’s too small for what they say they want to do! ” she’d said.

Despite a bitter fight, she won; the land is now protected in perpetuity from development.

My mother’s change of political parties seems to me a natural progression of this victory. It’s not so much about her disgust as it is about how her love in action–that is, protecting what she loves–changed how she defines herself.

Embracing this change took guts—and wisdom.

That’s because love in action is tricky. Sometimes, we twine ourselves tightly around what we hold dear, calling it love as we wring the very life from our beloved. Eventually, all that remains is our own form twisted around the memory of what was. Often, we call this “tradition”. More likely, it is a prison of our own design.

On the other hand, sometimes we take our love for granted, either because we are arrogant or because we are truly incapable of fully understanding how that someone or something is significant in our lives. It is only too late when we realize that our beloved has slipped away and we are powerless to restore it.

My mother’s dogged determination to preserve a fox den might seem incongruous when juxtaposed against her choice to live in one of those ubiquitous super-sized homes Green Party preservationists such as herself often rail against.

And yet, that her home, gracious and well appointed, brings peace, comfort, and inspiration to all who enter, indicates to me that rather than be bound by party lines, my mother is instead rooted in the land of her True Self: a passionate devotee of all things beautiful.

By switching parties, I see my mother as digging deeper into the earth of her soul, not careening around the political landscape looking for a slogan or a candidate to define what matters to her.

In his 2004 concession phone call to President Bush, Senator John Kerry reportedly emphasized, “the danger of division in our country and… the desperate need for…finding common ground and coming together.”

I believe that “common ground” will be easier to reach if, like my mother, we approach it from the interior landscape of what matters most to each of us as individuals, beyond the fences of any proscribed, group-sponsored identity.

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