Lining Up to Choose

FEMA   14998   Photograph by Mark Wolfe taken on 09 08 2005 in Mississippi - Lining Up to Choose
Photo by Mark Wolfe.

I hate standing on lines.

There are very few things for which I will actually wait. Years back, I waited on line in book store to meet Jimmy Stewart, that great icon of American cinema. I wait on line to get a good seat for my bus trips. I once waited on line for 60 hours for U2 tickets but that experience spoiled the show. The band could never live up to the wait.

In these post-hurricane days, Trader Joes has a line to get into the store almost daily. The lines at the bagel store are 15 people deep. And I’m so grateful I do not have a car and thus haven’t had to wait in the four-hour post-storm gasoline lines.

Today, however, I am actually writing this blog during the hour and counting I am waiting on line to vote. I’m getting a little tired and crabby, and even a little hungry, but I will not leave until that ballot is cast.

Living in New York, these days, battered by last week’s hurricane and gearing up for a Nor’easter this week, I have felt overwhelmed by my powerlessness and uncertainty. Will we lose electricity, water, or all our possessions? Thankfully I didn’t. But many friends and family members did, to varying degrees. Panic is evident still in the long lines in groceries and home stores and gas stations to “stock up” in case we get stuck. In case events spiral out of control.

We are never “really” in control, especially when it comes to natural disasters. Nature has a way of humbling us. Of reminding us of our existential “thrownness,” of reminding us what is really important.

But we can make ALWAYS make choices. How to respond, how to feel, how to react and how to act. Even when to go to Trader Joes to avoid the ridiculous lines but still find their wonderful braided marinated hot pepper mozzarella.

Interestingly, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s live election day coverage, Samantha Bee, one of the show’s correspondents, aired an interview she did with a group of undecided voters hours before the polls opened. “Coincidentally,” since the show is satire, these undecided voters were the same undecided voters she had interviewed just prior to Election Day 2008. She mused about what motivates people to actually make choices, and went to an expert, Sheena Iyengar, who has a TED talk about the art of how we choose and how we feel about those choices. But even she confessed to Bee that she was having trouble choosing.
Many of our existential luminaries lived through times of limited choices—Sartre, Camus, Heidegger, De Beauvoir—all lived and wrote during times of disaster, in their cases, the man-made disasters of world wars. So when these philosophers wrote about the importance of choice, they knew . Sartre famously said that we all make choices, even when we choose not to choose.

But after 90-plus minutes of standing and waiting—for I made the choice to stand and wait and participate in the democratic process when it would have been so much easier to give it up and go home—I have cast my ballot. I have made my choice. And so has the nation.

— Sarah Kass

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