Opinion

Words from a reformed political junkie

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I had to take a break from politics this spring. Cold turkey. I just quit.

It wasn’t easy to achieve. I’d be listening to some perfectly charming and refreshing NPR piece as I drove down Highway 305, and bam! Barack or Hillary’s voices would offer up bits of their stump speeches.

Try reading the newspaper when you’re abstaining from politics. I was left with natural disasters, domestic violence and the Sudoku puzzle to ponder over my oatmeal.

I’m off the wagon now, but I had to take a break for my own health. If I’d applied the questions designed to recognize alcoholism, I’d have been headed to rehab.

One Tuesday night of primaries, when I’d been obsessing about every CNN and CNBC pundit’s agonizing and re-agonizing analysis of minute omens and entrails, I had an epiphany.

I realized that I wasn’t having an impact on how this race ended up, nor the election in November, nor, for that matter, what happened to heal, save and restore this country of ours. My Tuesday night vigil, remote control in hand, was as futile as the sailor’s wife midnight watch on her widow’s walk, the offshore gale blowing cold and wet into her face.

Nothing I was doing was changing anything in the election, but the whole thing was having a huge impact on my life. So I gave it up, in the equivalent action of tossing my last pack of smokes into the trash can.

It was good timing. Within days the stark, bare tree limbs began their joyful unfurling. One after another they’ve begun popping out fresh new leaves. Have you ever seen so many shades of green as we have this year?

Then the lawn started growing and the blossoms on our crab apple swelled into cherry-red bud, and the neighborhood pheasant took to lurking in our garden. Two spindly yearlings appeared one day munching daintily on our shrub roses.

I’d like to say the sun came out and the tides stayed high and the rains held off ‘til after sundown, “by eight the morning fog must disappear,” etc. During the month I gave up politics we didn’t quite achieve Camelot, which is just as well since I remember how that one ended, both the musical and the thousand days of Kennedy in the white house.

But in many ways peace did descend into my life. I kind of unfurled myself. After about a week I realized if a stray bit of politics slipped into my awareness, that I got a hitch in my breathing and my diaphragm pulled up tight and hard.

I used to live in a town that is wild about its basketball team, the always a bridesmaid, never a bride Utah Jazz. One season when the team was squeaking by in the playoffs, the pitch grew to manic proportions.

Otherwise rational people went so far as talking suicide if the Jazz lost. And lose they did, inevitably.

I see a lot of that visceral kind of investment here on Bainbridge Island in our local political arena. The danger is that after awhile, good people begin to check out, stop watching, stop attending, quit their posts, disengage from the process. We all lose then.

We’re an island of very bright people, dare I say overachievers. Surely we can figure out a way to bring some peace into our civil discourse.

Maybe we should hold our chamber meetings mid-day all spring in Battle Point Park — the irony of the name isn’t lost on me — whilst we stroll en masse around the duck pond.

We could change the culture of our politics entirely with a recess into nature, We could create our own sort of Camp David peace talks. I picture time to contemplate eagles soaring overhead and city councilors carrying carefully pruned branches of wild cherry blossoms.

Well, maybe not. I tend to romanticize peace, longing for luminous peace like a painting by Bierstadt, cue the rays of golden sun, cue the soaring gulls.

We sing a song at my church, an African-American spiritual, “I’ve Got Peace like a River.” I suspect most of us singing the lyrics visualize a river like the one in the painting by Bingham, “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri,” that hangs in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum. Its river is glossy, still and shimmering with morning sun and rising vapors.

I forget the bored looks of the fur traders on the raft, longing for a swift current that would propel them to the trading station and an end to their journey.

I remember four days and nights I spent on the Green River, rafting through the Gates of Lodore on some lovely crashing white water. Or the even more thrilling Class V rapids in the Nenana River in Alaska where I totally lost my breath when our raft dropped into a deep hole before the icy waters spewed us up again, spun us around and sent us hurling towards more of the same.

Peace like a river, indeed. But, I suspect that a slave forced to plow another man’s field did long for that kind of river, carrying him where he wants to go.

Eve Leonard is a island writer and real estate agent

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