Before the presidential race was called, the highlight of my election day was a trip I made a few hours before the polls closed here to an apartment building near our house. A few weeks ago I’d helped a handful of residents there register to vote and apply for absentee ballots because they were either elderly or had no transportation to the polls. One man was 87 and had hands too shaky to do much more than sign his name. I helped him fill out forms and promised to return to help him with his ballot. When I went back over a week ago I learned that he’d been hospitalized with pneumonia. I wondered if he might be dying.
On Tuesday I went to the apartment building once more to check on whether two of the other voters whose absentee ballots never came in the mail were able to make it to the polls. (One woman, in her 60s, had found a ride, and carted her oxygen tank along with her.) And there standing and smiling on his front porch was the 87-year-old-man, recovered from his pneumonia. He went into his apartment and found his ballot, and we sat down together as I read the ballot to him and bubbled in his selections, then watched as he labored to sign it with his shaky hand. As I drove the ballot to the elections office, I thought about just how much history this man had witnessed over his life and how it must feel to him to have traveled through the decades from a time when he was denied the right to vote to a time when he could watch a black man become the 44th president of the United States of America.
I wrote those first couple paragraphs as the election results were still coming in. And then when in his victory speech, Barack Obama spoke eloquently about the even longer journey through history of a 106-year-old Atlanta voter named Ann Nixon Cooper, I thought again about my 87-year-old neighbor and about how all of us saw our world change last night.