Climbing a Hill on a Hot Day
by Christopher Dodson,
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
October 2004

I lived in Oakland, California while I attended law school. My neighborhood consisted of steep hills, the kind of which most of us associate with nearby San Francisco.

On an election day, I walked up one of those inclines to the voting precinct at the top of the hill. It was hot and sunny that day and by the time I got to the top, I felt as though I had finished a mild workout.

While up there, some others and I heard someone calling for help. Outside, lying in the street was a very old and frail looking woman. She, too, had walked up the hill to vote and had tripped while crossing the street. She probably had twisted her ankle, but in case it was worse, we concluded that she should not move and someone went to call the paramedics.

She began to protest and tried to get up. Somebody told her not to move until the paramedics had looked at her. She became more distraught. At first, I assumed that she did not want to see the paramedics and just wanted to go home. That, however, was not why she was upset. She wanted to vote.

I went into the voting precinct and asked if someone could bring a ballot to her. The precinct workers did not hesitate and grabbed the paperwork.

There, lying injured on the hot pavement, this woman cast her vote.

I do not remember what issues were on the ballot that day. I do not remember who ran in any of the races. I hope, however, I never forget the image of her in the middle of the street exercising her right to vote.

I met with Catholics throughout the state this election season. Their interest in the elections seems much higher than usual. Yet, at the same time, Catholics expressed to me great dissatisfaction with the candidates and especially the political parties.

In one sense, I see this as a good response. It is unfortunate that so many Catholics do not feel comfortable with the candidates or “at home” with a political party. However, dissatisfied citizens typically lose interest in politics and the elections. Instead, Catholics seem more attentive and committed than ever before to exercising their political responsibility. Perhaps all the discussion, debate, and argument about the war in Iraq, John Kerry and communion, same-sex “marriage,” and how Catholics should vote, has, despite some anger and hurt feelings, moved Catholics to take their faith and political responsibility more seriously than before.

The Simon and Garfunkle song says: “Laugh about it, shout about it; When you've got to choose; Every way you look at it, you lose.” The lyric contains some truth. We rarely win in every respect. It is not a perfect world, with perfect candidates, and perfect political parties.

Yet we do not lose merely because our choices are not perfect. When we struggle with the issues, face the difficult choices of voting, and even laugh and shout about it, we gain something. We exercise our Catholic political responsibility. We take another step in our on-going conversion. Ultimately, this is much more important than who gets the most votes.

It may be difficult. In a spiritual sense, voting may seem like climbing a hill on a hot day, falling, and lying in pain in the middle of the street. Yet, she did it. So can we.