Last Tuesday morning I sat down to scroll through my email and then I turned to wade through my streams of news and commentary. I read so much anxiety and urgent fear every direction. CALL YOUR SENATORS was the common refrain. I call across the political aisle up here (though that doesn’t tell you everything about how I vote). And calling makes me nervous! But in the dark shadows of our national election in November, I have felt my own sense of urgency – to run to the edges. To find places where I can stand in the gap. In these weeks that I have not been able to literally run, or even stand on my own two feet, I have turned up the volume on voices calling for protection of civil rights and justice for all. I check my own privilege and see that I have so very much to learn.
And this is why I spent Tuesday morning prepping to call my Senators. I researched the topics more specifically, and read through examples of call scripts, before outlining my own. Finally I took a deep breath and picked up my phone. Just a couple rings and a male voice on the line said, “Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office, please hold.” And the line went quiet. So far, so good. I took a quick look at my script and he was right back on the line. He was a kind voice and I surprised myself by being able to ad lib my entry a bit, asking him if the phones were in fact ringing off the hook. From there it was a normal conversation. I worked from my talking points, but didn’t need to read the script. I learned a little bit about where the Senator stands on the issues I was calling about and the staffer logged my opinions. In listening to his answers, I learned bits of the government process I had not known and when we hung up I felt not so much gratified by my good citizenship as grateful for the opportunity to even have had that conversation.
Based on what I had just learned, I edited my script for Senator Sullivan and dialed the next number. A gal answered on the other end of the line this time, and I immediately went off script to set the tone for a regular human conversation – “Hey! I imagine you’re super busy with phone calls, yeah?” She said, indeed she was. Back to the script, we navigated the details of my call. I had talking points, her job was to field them. We discussed my out of state phone number as she recorded my address and she noted that Senator Sullivan cares particularly what his own constituents think, but that she had been taking phone calls from all over the country that morning. So many mean, angry people, she said. When I asked about her job she explained that she is an unpaid staffer with a background in communication. She took this internship to further her skills and gain experience, and boy was she getting that! She thanked me for expressing my opposing viewpoints with kindness. And I hung up the phone thinking about words. How grateful I am to have opportunity to express them, and how important it is to do that with care.
Phone calls done, I pushed away my papers and my phone and went on to other tasks in my day, but continued to reflect on the experience. Later that afternoon I found myself thinking back to the spring morning in 2015 when I stood at the DMV counter in Mountain Park. I had just passed the written driving test and was in the process of checking out to receive my Oregon license, but had misunderstood which identification documents I needed to have brought with me in order to complete the process. As a result, I was unprepared. The lady on the other side of the counter was not kind. I can’t recall the specifics of our conversation, but the feeling of being made small sticks with me to this day. As I thought about my morning conversations with the staffers, and my gratitude for kind, respectful conversations in spite of policy disagreements I might have with their offices, I thought it was interesting that this old memory surfaced.
And it reminded me of an essay I read way back in high school (speaking of memories sticking with me to this day!) by Walter Wangerin, Jr. Out of his collection, Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, the essay “Edification or Demolition” is reprinted with permission here.
…..But I say to you: “Every time you meet another human being you have the opportunity. It’s a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things. Either you will build him up, or you will tear him down. Either you will acknowledge that she is, or you will make her sorry that she is —sorry, at least, that she is there, with you. You will create, or you will destroy……”