The wait to vote was only about an hour this morning, not too bad on a brisk sunny day. My polling place is an NYU building a few blocks away and as I approached I could see that the line extended from inside the building into the street. I was prepared to settle in for a long wait but after about five minutes a helpful young man called for voters in my district. “I can get you in right away,” he said, something I would expect to hear while waiting to enter a hot new club, not a polling place.
I soon learned that what he meant by “get you in” was that he could get me into the building, where the line for my district was still quite long, though shorter than the lines for other districts. We all stood patiently in a crowded hallway as the lines crept along. From time to time we cleared a path down the middle to allow an elderly man or woman to come through on the way to or from voting. A blind elderly man made his way confidently. When he passed, my neighbor, a tall striking young woman whom I assumed was either a model or an aspiring actress (there are many in these parts), looked at me and shook her head. “Amazing,” she said. “When do you ever see such determination?”
From there we started a conversation that made the remaining wait go by too quickly. We traded Sandy stories and agreed that it was strange to be in Manhattan, where things seemed to have returned to normal when just a short distance away so many were suffering.
She was originally from Albania, and has lived in the US for
fifteen years. (I had detected a slight accent.) “This is home,” she said.
She’s in her first of four years of graduate studies at the National
Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, nearby on 13th Street. When she completes her studies,
which require 750 supervised hours of treating patients plus classroom work and
her own thrice-weekly sessions with a psychoanalyst, an experience she
described as life-changing, she hopes to treat children and young adult victims of sexual abuse. I asked if before she began her studies she
considered herself to be a happy well-adjusted person. She seized upon “happy.” “What
does it mean to be happy?" she wondered. "Isn’t that the big question?” Well, yes.
We decided to use the word “satisfied” instead but after batting that
about came up with “leading a well-integrated life with intimate relationships
and satisfying work,” a much less satisfying phrase than the simple “happy.” I never did get her answer, but she seemed
like a happy person to me, at least during the time we were together.
As I approached the sign-in desk, I was disappointed to learn that we were using paper ballots that we would fill out in a “privacy booth” and scan on site to be delivered to . . . where? The Board of Elections? I had always looked forward to the private moments in the voting both, concealed from view by the grey curtain, when I moved the little red nob to indicate my vote and the check mark appeared in the box next to my candidate. And, having made my selections, I liked to believe that when I shifted the big lever from left to right and the curtain swung open, I was connected with millions of Americans who were doing the same thing.