I can remember thinking, some 70 years ago, how good it was to be born into an American family. Odd as that may seem, this early childhood tie to country reflected a spirit of unity and trust we had as a nation. In a way, America was part of our extended family.

Today, many Americans are disturbed by the events and revelations of the recent past. We feel our democracy weakening from the divisive rhetoric of a fear-mongering administration. We thought we would have had it all wrapped up by now. We thought 2020 was going to be the year of perfect vision, the year of innovation, of the changing of the guard, of curtailing climate change and of restoring social justice.

From the accusations that unwanted news is fake and our trusted laws can be ignored, to the shocking instances of implicit bias and police brutality against people of color, we feel confused and repulsed. Now the COVID-19 pandemic magnifies the chaos. And on top of this comes the presidential election, that will challenge our resolve to safeguard our democracy.

As we pass through this spectacular fall-foliage season, we see an all too swiftly narrowing window of opportunity to experience a renewed vision of our national purpose, before it is too late. Like the COVID-19 face mask, our best defense is our vote.

But first, our immediate challenge is to reaffirm our dignity. Our self-respect has been compromised by allowing ourselves to engage in the low level dirt throwing discourse of a polarized country. We are finding it is more difficult than we thought, as the former First Lady advises, “to go high when they go low.”

Perhaps we need a stronger directive, like your mother’s “Go to your room now and think about how you would feel if someone said that to you.” A kind of ethical, moral quarantine is needed now to bring our country back to equilibrium.

We might use this winter to do that work. While we would like to believe winter is a time to curl up with a good book in front of a roaring wood stove, we might do better to engage in what Carl Jung called the dark shadow work of the underworld, to take a deep breath and go to our proverbial rooms to recollect our self-respect, our values and our dignity. Winter could be good for this. Winter could be good for knitting our unraveled belief systems back up into whole cloth. Winter could be good for recalibrating our moral compass. Winter could be good for reacquainting ourselves with our inner muses.

Let’s face it, when our moral structures are dissolved, chaos is unleashed. Perhaps the most important thing we can do as a society is to bring order to the entropy of our lives right now. The American story, the American democracy is more than a good narrative, it is a personal experience of huge proportion. It is why hundreds of thousands of people have laid down their lives to defend it. It is why there is no excuse for us to fail it now.

Please vote. Our country needs us to vote.

Our souls need us to vote.

Elizabeth Courtney is a landscape architect, author and former Vermont Natural Resources Council executive director. She may be reached at elizabethcourtneyvt@gmail.com.

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