So, I voted earlier this week, and today I received the email confirming that my vote has been received and recorded. It was a great feeling, and it reminded me that voting is both such a great privilege and an important responsibility. Certainly, casting your vote has critical, practical importance in this moment for choosing your elected officials, but I think it has deeper and greater significance as well that goes beyond the present moment and context.
First, I think voting is a sign that you care about other people–you care about the welfare of this country as a whole, and of the world. Voting is an expression of solidarity, and a reminder that we are all in this together. It’s an invitation to stretch your neck out of your shell and look around at the world and see what is needed–and then do something to make that happen.
Second, voting is a sign that you care about the future. Sometimes we see the fruits of our labor right away, but sometimes they don’t ripen for a long time–think of all those suffragettes (on this 100th year anniversary of the 19th Amendment) who never got to vote themselves, but on whose shoulders women stood to cast those first ballots. We vote for our children, and our children’s children; and we vote in honor of our parents, and our parents’ parents.
And, finally, voting is a declaration that you believe in your voice, your commitments, and your power to make a difference, to make history, to make the world proud. (Read the poem) You are not afraid to stand up and be counted. You matter. Just listen to the ancestors thunder their applause. (Again, read the poem)
All of those things were in my mind when I chose the following poem for this week’s Poetry Moment at the College. I hadn’t read it before, but after now reading it multiple times and reflecting on it, it has burrowed its way into my heart, and I think it is a wonderful inspiration for these next few weeks. I hope you take it in that spirit, and that you enjoy it.
A House Called Tomorrow, by Alberto Rios
You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries
And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step
Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,
The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.
If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:
The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. But think:
When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—
It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.
From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,
The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:
That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.
Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.
Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
Make us proud. Make yourself proud.
And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.