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Conversations with America

Conversations with America: Lindsey O'Connor

Lindsey O'Connor

David Schulman

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Lindsey O'Connor
(Courtesy Lindsey O'Connor)
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You'll head into a voting booth soon, if you haven't already voted from home, and declare who you think would lead the country most effectively. You'll take a leap of faith, you might say. This fall, we've been asking people to bring us their take on what's important to them as they prepare to cast their vote. We're calling it Conversations with America. Our essay today comes from Colorado author Lindsey O'Connor.

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I asked friends and family what their main election issue was. "Unions," said one friend. Her husband is an airline pilot. Another friend's issue is stem-cell research. He has multiple sclerosis.

I care about foreign relations. I choke at the gas pump like everyone else. I'm trying not to panic about the worldwide economic nightmare. But I wasn't clear what issue most mattered to me and why. I found myself sifting through two mental snapshots, and a deathbed scene.

Snapshot one: I'm nine years old. Sitting at my grandparents' breakfast table. My grandfather rants about the no-do-gooders in Washington who are all a bunch of crooks. He pounds his fist on the table. His eggs quiver. His clean coveralls still smell of machine shop oil. "It's about time they do something for the working man!" he bellows.

My grandmother ignores him. She doesn't care at all for politics, yet she adores JFK. His face shines down from a china plate on the wall. I think he must be a king. Or a relative. Or both.

Snapshot two: I'm a little older, about ten. I'm with my other grandmother at her breakfast table. Another face shines down from the wall. My grandma says he's a king, and a relative. This one's a picture of Jesus. Before we eat the homemade biscuits, she prays. Like she knows him.

Deathbed scene: I am 41 years old. The deathbed is mine, only I don't know it. A routine hospital procedure goes terribly wrong. I am in a coma. A ventilator breathes for me. A feeding tube nourishes me. My husband agonizes about turning off life support that's been keeping me alive for weeks. He signs a "do not resuscitate" order, then rescinds it. His core beliefs smack up against a decision with no room for error. Being on the wrong end of life support is no time to figure out where you stand on how to live out "the sanctity of life."

When I first heard this, I said to my husband, "You did what?" Later, I scrounged through the Bible like a starving woman. I consumed the words of old sermons, and ethics books, and medical journals. I roughed up my knees in prayer, trying to square my beliefs with real end of life choices.

My grandfather, with his working-man rants, showed me how I could be personally affected by politics. My grandmother, with her china JFK plate, taught me to have an opinion about the man in office. My other grandmother, praying before we shared a meal, modeled a relationship with God. And my own story, with my husband at my deathbed, showed me that believing in something can be easy, but applying that faith is sometimes the hardest thing we ever do.

Some people vote lockstep. I've done it before. People looking to their pastor, or the Catholic Church, or the media for a voting cheat sheet. But for me, what's different in this election is the effort of my thinking. It's not about the candidate who shares my religion. It's not about a single deal-breaker issue. It's not even what the candidates say about faith. What is important to me is thinking deeply about my faith. I need to know my core beliefs, and how I want to act on them.

And I want to measure the candidates in the same way. I want to see what they've done with what they say they believe. How'd they vote? Why?

Why is faith so important to me? Why is applying it "my issue"? Simple: I love God. Before the coma. After the coma. Heart, mind, soul, strength. For me, trying to live out my faith is everything. Figuring out my beliefs and how I want to apply them helps me figure out my vote. Then voting becomes an act of faith.

  • Music Bridge:
    Fourteen Drawings
    Artist: Helios
    CD: Caesura (Type)
More stories from our Conversations with America series

Comments

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  • By Katie Conrad

    From Fort Collins, CO, 10/22/2008

    Wow how insightful! Great way to reason with your decision for 2008! Its about real life, its about real experiences, its about real people, its about real faith.

    By Kevin Buggy

    10/18/2008

    Lots of thoughtful words that add up to the most empty headed reasoning I've heard in a long time.

    By Janet Hartzell

    From Brown Deer, WI, 10/18/2008

    This was an outstanding, moving, through-provoking essay that I will quote briefly from in a sermon I will deliver tomorrow in church! Thank you for sharing.

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