Gurdon: After the big election, a return to the consoling little things

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

Suddenly the to-do list seems oddly easy to address.

In the weeks before the election, the list was getting longer by the day. It seemed so troublesome, so onerous, somehow, to try to get pesky little things done when the country was engaged in such a vast philosophical struggle.

Phone calls I should have made ages ago, such as one to the plumber to come take a look at a tap that mysteriously lost water pressure, never got dialed. Tasks that demanded the expenditure of time, such as cleaning out the chaotic accretion of stuff in the basement -- oh, there was no chance. Yet even errands that would take five minutes if only someone would do them, such as dashing to the hardware store for more lights for the dark hallway upstairs, never got run.

Every night, I'd flick a switch as I went upstairs and discover to my annoyance (with myself) that I'd forgotten yet again to buy the darn bulbs. Every morning, I'd walk through the same hallway on my way to check the race for the eighteen-hundredth time, forgetting, in daylight, that I needed to pop into the hardware store.

It was like this in almost every room in the house: Quotidian efficiencies had broken down in the face of the overwhelming questions of What Would Happen, What Would Voters Decide, and Who Would Win?

Now that the campaigning is over, I find that these little things -- these boring, tedious, unglamorous little errands and tasks -- are wonderfully consoling.

When we vote, we are a small part of a big thing. (Sometimes the results bring home to us just how small a part we are -- an insignificant and possibly despised part, even, if we happen to be the wrong color on our neighborhood's electoral map.) We can't control how our neighbors vote, and unfortunately, we often can't prevent policies we find objectionable from going into effect. That big thing, the election, will get us one way or another.

But we can exert some small control over little things: our attitudes in victory or defeat, for instance; our demeanor toward those with whom we disagree; whether there's light in the upstairs hallway and chaos in the basement.

The weeks and days before a national election are intensified periods of uncertainty -- or so it seems. The truth is, uncertainty is part of the human condition. We may think we know what will happen from day to day -- or what will happen if our guy wins, and the other guy loses -- but we don't. It's an illusion. From day to day, we don't know what will happen.

The only thing we really have is right now, this moment. The only things we can really control are the little ones. And that is why, the minute I get off the phone with the plumber, I'm going straight downstairs to muck out our Augean basement. To be honest, I'm looking forward to it.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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