When I was in the 7th grade we read a short story wherein a man attempts to evade authorities for reasons I no longer remember. I do remember the man visits a barber shop to aid him in altering his appearance. The barber lathers up the man's face and begins shaving, just as the authorities enter the shop. Questions are asked and answered and by some lucky chance the fugitive's identity remains undiscovered. After the authorities are gone and the shave is complete, the barber asks "Was the shave close enough for you?" to which the fugitive replies "Yes, it was a very close shave."
Reading that story was how I learned a close shave is another way to describe a narrow escape. Like most people, I've had my fair share of close calls in my life. Some were brought on by my own choices, like the time I was too tired to drive but my companion was drunk so I did it anyway. I nodded off and came-to just in time to not drive off the road down a steep, tree-lined ravine. The resulting near-death adrenalin rush kept me wide awake for the rest of the ride home.
Other times the circumstances that accumulate into a near miss are firmly outside our control. Like this week's run-off election in Georgia that decided control of the US Senate. I definitely don't live in that jurisdiction, so all I could do was support from the sidelines with my fingers crossed. As soon as the results were in, a significant section of my soul unclenched. It is now much less likely Congress will pass super scary legislation. It's not a whole lot more likely we'll see terrific and helpful legislation, but it definitely feels like we narrowly avoided something much, much worse.
Avoiding potential calamity can be a highly effective serving of perspective from the universe. Or it can barely register amidst the everything we have to do in our pursuit of survival in a challenging world. I hope we all take this election as the lucky break it was and get down to the business of getting our collective shit together once we've had a good night sleep. “Let’s dance because we deserve it,” Senator-elect Raphael Warnock said the evening of his victory, “But tomorrow we go back into the valley to do the work.” Good advice.
When you almost lose someone you love, or when you miss death by an inch yourself, it's a palpable reminder that longevity is not guaranteed. We're all essentially living on borrowed time and we should at least try to make the most of it. In a sense, the same is true for this political moment in the US. We're on borrowed political time. I think it's fair to say we have been since the 2020 election. But somehow enough of us forgot what a near miss that was we almost let it slip in this midterm election.
We can't do that. We have too many real, big, important problems to solve. Like poverty and climate change. White supremacy and the threat of global nuclear war. Those things are not fixing themselves, and they only get worse if ignored or neglected. Even if you don’t want to classify the lack of red wave as a close call, the fact remains: we have only achieved the opportunity to do the work. A short six years after women were finally allowed to vote, Alice Dunbar-Nelson offered this same clarity of position in a piece called “The Negro Woman and the Ballot" published in The Messenger:
Of course we know it didn't work like that. Winning the right to participate in the electoral and political system doesn't in itself solve any of the problems plaguing citizens. That was true in 1927 and it's true today. We have to use our newly won power and position to make things happen. It's not enough to have the opportunity to fight another day, we have to do the fighting. As Lewis & Clark law professor Michele Okoh so poignantly stated in a presentation on implicit bias this week “laws don’t enforce themselves.”
When I narrowly avoid catastrophe, I take a moment to appreciate what didn't come to pass. Even when the stakes are relatively low, like almost locking my keys in the car or almost forgetting my print-at-home tickets to the theater. However monumental or mundane, each near miss is impactful because it's a chance to try again but do it differently. It's not every day we get a do-over in life. We should not waste any second chances. And our elected officials shouldn't either. Your move, Congress.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.