One of the things that surprises me about the campaign season which just passed is the amount of fear that was revealed. In many ways, it is a political candidate’s job to highlight our fears. Fear is very persuasive; if a candidate can get us to fear the other person, then we have a powerful motivation to vote for that candidate. With enough fear, we might even be willing to overlook the candidate’s mistakes, inconsistencies, and disconnect from our own values and visions.
And it seems that it was not hard for this year’s candidates to get us to be afraid. Based on the conversations I had and comments I saw, people are afraid. People are afraid of taxes and people are afraid of deficits. People are afraid of military action and people are afraid of military inaction. People are afraid of gun control and people are afraid of guns. People are afraid of the heath care system and people are afraid of having no health care at all. People are afraid of change and people are afraid that things will never change. People are afraid of the wealthy and people are afraid of the poor. People are afraid of immigrants and people are afraid of hipster urbanites and people are afraid of country folk and people are afraid of the well-educated and people are afraid of the not-so-well-educated and people are afraid of black folks and white folks and gay folks and straight folks and all other manner of folks. People are even afraid of communism; I thought we stopped fearing the communists twenty years ago, but I guess I was wrong.
This level of fear fascinates me. It is not normal. Most of the time, most people I know do not allow those kinds of fear to motivate them. People I know have faced really scary times: illnesses, job losses, divorces, the death of loved ones, the kinds of situations that make a person feel like the floor has dropped out from under them. They have faced those situations with amazing courage, hope, trust, and faith. But when the campaign was on everyone’s minds, those same people were decrying the damage that would be done by the other candidate if he was elected. These people who have been through so much allowed pictures to form in their minds of mass poverty, of anarchy, of oppression, and of all manner of other world-ending forces of evil. O.k., so maybe I exaggerate. But I am struck by the ways that courage, hope, trust, and even faith were so easily pushed aside in the sweep of the campaigns.
As a gardener, I have had days when I have looked at the future and seen it as bleak. I remember when I was getting ready to get married. My soon-to-be-wife and I had shared a particularly joyful time as we began dating which involved Black-Eyed Susans. So, she wanted them to be featured prominently in the bouquets of flowers carried by our attendants. The problem was that Black-Eyed Susans were not available from any florist; they are considered by that industry to be wild flowers, and therefore beneath the dignity of such professionals. But I was a gardener, albeit a bit of a newbie, and Black-Eyed Susans would be in season around the time of the Big Day, so why not get them from a nursery and grow them myself?
About a week before the wedding, we found some beautiful plants, full of blooms, at a local nursery. We bought four of the plants, giving us way more flowers than we would ever need. I brought them home, planted them at various places throughout my yard, watered them, and cooed at my bride about what a beautiful wedding it would be.
Two days later, though, I checked on the plants, and they were a wilted disaster. The leaves drooped. The flowers bent and sagged. The whole mess was starting to lose its colors. I was devastated and afraid. I was afraid that the wedding would be ruined. I was afraid that my bride would have to carry grocery-store carnations with shame on her face. I was afraid that my marriage was over before it even began.
I don’t want to trivialize the fears people expressed in the weeks leading up to the election. I am a gardener, not a farmer; I work the land from my place of privilege, not from a need to feed my family. Therefore, my fears about the health of my flowers compare not at all to the fears of people who honestly believe their security and livelihood is in jeopardy, except in one way. As a gardener, I have come to learn that no matter how many things I do the wrong way, and no matter how many times I fail to do things the right way, and no matter how many times things don’t go my way, none of it will prevent beauty from blooming in the world.
The fact is that the president just isn’t that powerful. Congress isn’t that powerful. Beauty and generosity and compassion and grace will bloom and grow no matter what party has persuaded the most people to check its boxes in the voting booth. As a Christian, I believe the world was created in beauty and generosity, the world was saved with compassion and grace, and the world will end in the same ways, too. But the fear which the candidates stirred up in us to get our votes will prevent us from seeing that beauty or generosity or compassion or grace. Fear distracts us, and makes us forgetful, and clouds our vision. Such things can only be seen with hope, trust, faith, and even courage that has helped us overcome fear before.
I warily told my fiancee about the Black-Eyed Susan debacle, and it turns out she is not shallow. She assured me everything would be just fine because, no matter what else, we were getting married. And then, I drenched the droopy plants with water, and a little while later, they were as perky and bright as ever. It seems that Black-Eyed Susans are notoriously unhappy when they are transplanted. Their roots take a while to overcome the shock of being disturbed and adjust to their new location. In the mean time, they have to be watered well, and eventually, they will be just fine. After a week of daily watering, my friend Marc and I went out early on the morning of my wedding day, cut the stems of glowing flowers at the base, put them in pitchers of water, and delivered them to the church building, where I knew my bride and her friends would find them and arrange them into bouquets worthy of the joy of the occasion.