Waking up at 5:30 in the morning was just the beginning.
My father and I awoke at 5:30 am. The sun was still missing, not even the first glimpse of dawn on the horizon yet. And yet, neither of us felt the need for another wink of sleep. There was so much in the air it knocked the slumber right out of us--excitement, anxiety, hope...fear.
Our poll site took place at my old elementary school. We got there at a brisk 6:10 am, only ten minutes after the polls officially opened for the day. The line, however, already went all around the block and was quickly growing. I recognized many faces--childhood friends, their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, people I've seen in synagogue and the town's civic association meetings before the pandemic arrived. We all separated physically from each other in the past seven months, but for a moment between the brisk breeze and watching the sunrise together as we waited that I felt something for the first time in a while -- unity.
It didn't matter that many of our votes would cancel each other out, due to the diverse political affiliations of my neighborhood. It didn't matter that we were standing 6 feet apart, our very steps ironically controlled by giant stickers in red, white, and blue. For a moment I felt the weight of my engagement and was excited by it.
That was right before things turned to shit.
One of the poll workers decided it was a good idea to open a second line, beginning in the back of the school. Naturally, the people at the end of the line ran towards this second entrance and were actually admitted into the building first, despite people like my father and I waiting in line for over a half hour still not getting in.
When we did enter the school, I didn't have time to reminisce about my elementary school years. Security guards were attempting to keep all voters socially distanced while they waited in line to enter the gym, where the ballots were completed. The two lines merged, and it seemed as though two middle-aged men were fussing about how unfair it was that the second line had practically no wait time while he had to wait for almost an hour.
One of them decided to address the second line, loudly exclaiming: "I bet you're all voting for Trump, taking all these shortcuts."
Immediately the attitude in the room tensed up. In perhaps the most heated election in modern history, the sentence was a lit fuse. Unsurprisingly, a female from the second line responded rather quickly: "I bet you're voting for Biden, whining because you didn't get ahead yourself."
Luckily, it ended there. I held my breath during the entire interaction. Many shook their heads and mumbled affirmations in either direction to themselves. These were people from the same community. They've likely known each other for years. When did politics become a good reason to attack our neighbors? How did our partisanship allow for tensions to be, arguably, at the highest levels in history aside from the Civil War?
I cast my vote. I know I voted for the future of America, so 20, 30 years down the line I and my vastly diverse generation felt safe, recognized, and protected in our own country. But no matter the outcome tonight, we need to remember to recognize each other, especially as human beings, especially today. Don't forget to love thy neighbor as thyself, and may G-d bless America.