by Jess Hill
Each summer I seem to have a stack of books on my small bedside table so high that to pull one out mid-stack could bring about a tumbling Jenga tower. Even if I make my way through a few of them, the stack grows exponentially faster than my reading rate. Contrary to that image, I am not always buried in books from June to July, but the desire remains. I think I am still longing for that summer from long ago when I stopped pestering my older siblings long enough to make my way through the Nancy Drew mystery series.
These days I seem to read a bit of one book and then a bit of another, depending on the mood or the time of day. Lately, I keep picking up a little book called, On Democracy, by E.B. White. Perhaps it is our proximity to the 4th of July or the presence of a mayoral election and both local and national debates, that keep drawing me to Mr. White’s clear prose during and after WWII. Perhaps it is the recent victory of our home team in baseball, or perhaps it is a longing to connect the present with something which we survived in the past, that keeps bringing me back. Whatever the reason, I have enjoyed reading E.B. White’s measured and reassuring take on the state of America during that turbulent time. In 1952, he writes, “We doubt that there ever was a time in this country when so many people were trying to discredit so many other people.” Our hindsight encompasses a perspective on seventy years ago that the reader could not have at the time. What will our newest class of 2027 think of the present time down the road?
It is Mr. White’s answer to a question posed in the New Yorker, this week in 1943, that I find myself reading again and again. The author writes a response to the prompt, “The Meaning of Democracy.”
“Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in rationed coffee.”
I am proud that a recent trend within our senior class is to pose for a selfie just after the first time they vote in an election. They share it on social media and always with their Harpeth Hall history teachers. It is a proud moment for them and a proud moment for us. We tack the pictures to our walls, signifying to the younger girls that this is an important rite of passage. Those seniors have accomplished something significant. They have embarked on a lifelong journey of being a voting and informed citizen.
Here’s to a happy 4th of July to all of you! Enjoy the fireworks and that “feeling of vitality everywhere.”