Here we are on the big day of the 2012 Presidential Election and I have a small story to tell that will hopefully cheer you, as it did me. I go regularly to a local gym for my morning workouts. It’s a funky place – pretty old, a bit musty and tired, but it works. One of the things I like about this gym is the huge range of people who work out there – old, young, all colors, muscle men and fragile older women.
So, I’m working away on an elliptical, one in a short row of side-by-side machines, and a fellow (about my age) gets on the one beside me. Soon after he begins his workout, an elderly gentleman walks up to our machines with a book in his hand. The elderly gent begins to thank my neighbor for the loan of the book and tell him how much he enjoyed it. I can tell from the nature of the conversation that they don’t know each other well and are navigating new relationship territory through possible common interest in this book, Michael Korda’s book on The Battle of Britain.
Quickly their talk turns to the presidential election (sigh) and it becomes clear that my exercising neighbor is an Obama supporter and the elderly book-returner will be voting for Romney. They make a few stabs at each other, mostly harmless but with an underlying intensity that comes from strongly held opinions. I can tell that they are walking over familiar territory. I can also tell that they will never convince each other to make a different choice, and I can feel myself bracing for conflict.
The elderly gent offers to stow the book on a nearby shelf for its owner so that he can take it home after his workout. My neighbor, now a little breathless from his workout, gestures with his chin and asks him to put the book over there, near his jacket and hat on the shelf.
“Oh, you mean here,” says the older man, “on the left?” (intentional pause) “You see, I was drawn to put the book over here – on the right.” At which point he looks up at me, winks, and says, “It’s just my natural tendency.” We all three break out laughing and the book-returner tells me to be careful of this guy and I quip, “It’s ok, I’m left of him.” And we laugh some more.
OK, so we disagree. So my exercising neighbor will never convince the book-returner to support universal healthcare, a woman’s right to choose, the importance of federal regulations and safety nets, let alone to change his vote – but they can still talk with each other. They can still exchange ideas about the Battle of Britain and favorite books. They can still have a laugh.