Yesterday, I began my blog by talking about turning points. This post is about such a point, although it wasn’t apparent at the time.
It was 1998. I was 26 and in Coeur d’Alene for the Idaho State Republican Convention. This was during the time of the militias, the rise of the Black Helicopter crowd. Easily one third of the assembled believed that blue-helmeted UN soldiers were massing near Sandpoint, ready to swoop down on the gathering. At least that was my perspective on their thinking.
Going in, I knew that a well-known white nationalist outfit had an HQ in the general vicinity, that somewhere past the lake, past the pines and well-kept homes with unlocked doors and townies with easy smiles…there was a hate-filled menace.
I tried to put this out of my mind when I arrived at the hotel, a pleasant enough one-star lodging. During the check-in, I must have been biting on a fingernail because the hotel clerk commented on it. She mentioned that she did the same, but with her toenails as well. I was focused on getting to my room, so I didn’t stop to consider the implications of her disclosure. Perhaps that is what passes for idle chatter in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe The Uneasy Vibe was getting to her too? People say strange things when they are nervous.
For those who don’t know, I was working for the Republicans back in those days. It was a dance-with-who-brung-ya situation, since a GOP polling shop hired me back when I was still an undergraduate. In politics, once you pick a side, changing teams is no small thing. The same logic applies with crime syndicates.
The main purpose of my visit was to brief a client on some poll results. She was still riding the wave of the 1994 Republican Revolution, undaunted by President Clinton’s re-election two years later. The strategy meeting itself went about as well as could be expected…. totally uneventful but, like the entire trip, vaguely disquieting.
It was on the last day there, as I was having lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake, that something odd happened. My eyes became very sensitive to the light. It was like the feeling you get from snow-blindness, but there was no snow, just a big lake with plenty of H2O in liquid form. It was cloudy, so no sunlight was reflecting off the water. Yet there I was, squinting like Mr. Magoo for no discernable reason.
According to Wikipedia, the “Inuit carve snow goggles from caribou antlers to help prevent snow blindness.” Unfortunately, I had neither caribou antlers nor Wikipedia.
As I was sitting there, trying to blink off this strange affliction, I was hit by the thought, “What am I doing here?”
“What am I doing here?” is a question that needs to be asked more often. It pulls us, if only briefly, out of mundanity. It compels us to consider our place in the world. From it springs a host of other queries: what actions am I taking? Why? To what end? Regardless of our ability to do something, should I be doing it? Is it fulfilling? Is it consistent with my values? Is it something that “The Best Me” would do or no?
This question lingered as I drove to Spokane International Airport to catch a plane home. Eventually, it led to a decision to leave politics (for a while), switch party affiliation and chart a new career path. It helped bring about change.
Of course there was a great deal of unnecessary frustration and foolishness that occurred after the question was asked, because sometimes accepting the answer is quite difficult.
That said, I am glad the question came to mind.
[The next post will be shorter]
Stay tuned, as more will follow.