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The On Being Project

That Time I Ran for President of the United States

On Tuesday, May 8, at 9:20 p.m. Central time — as I was reading the William Stafford poem at the end of this column — I decided to run for President of the United States. Why? Because I had watched PBS NewsHour earlier that evening.

By 9:21 p.m., I’d decided against it. I’d be a bad president. I don’t like to wear suits and ties, and I own only one of each. I don’t like meetings that last more than five minutes. I don’t like glad-handing big money or being wholly owned and operated by people who have it. I don’t suffer fools gladly, even if they’re members of my own party. And I can’t abide balderdash.

But during the sixty seconds I spent considering a presidential run, my stump speech came to me in a flash, inspired by William Stafford’s poem.

“I understand how fragile life is for everyone and everything. It’s fragile for infants and young children, many of whom go to bed hungry; for students who wonder if a shooter will show up at their school today; for people trapped in poverty no matter how hard they work; for folks who lack health insurance adequate to their basic needs; for people targeted by hate because of their color, religion, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation; for homeless people, mentally ill people, wounded warriors, immigrants, and the millions around the world who’ve been displaced by the ill-begotten wars we’ve fought.

The U.S. Constitution is fragile. The American economy is fragile — remember 2008? Our international partnerships are fragile. The earth itself and all the wild creatures who live on it are fragile. Even for the wealthy and the powerful, life is fragile. They just don’t know it yet, because they’ve surrounded themselves with illusions of security and immortality.

I’m not going to make a lot of empty campaign promises, but I promise you this: As your president, I will not behave like a human wrecking ball. My top priority will be to protect and preserve ALL that is fragile.

You see, I’m aware of my own fragility. Don’t get me wrong — I’m no weak reed or shrinking violet. In fact, I’ve survived and thrived through dark and difficult times, as many people have. I simply know that I’m not ‘the strongest and smartest guy in the room’ — and no amount of bluster, bullying, and false bravado will fool the majority of voters into thinking I am.

Truth is, there’s no ‘strong man or woman’ anywhere who can save us. We need each other; we need mutual respect; we need to come together and compromise around the highest common denominator to serve the needs of the people who put us in office. As your president, I’ll devote myself to helping that happen.

But, caveat emptor: If elected, my first State of the Union address will begin with this William Stafford poem. So my presidency will be short-lived. I’ll be impeached for being too ‘elite’ — as in loving poetry and saying things like ‘caveat emptor’ — and for acknowledging my own fragility. So there’s a major downside to voting for me.

My fellow Americans: I’ll close by quoting the writer Anne Lamott, who famously said there are only three prayers: Help, Thanks, and Wow! In my personal life, I say all three almost every day. But in this moment of our national life, the one I pray most often is HELP! God knows we need it.”

“A Valley Like This”
by William Stafford

Sometimes you look at an empty valley like this,
and suddenly the air is filled with snow.
That is the way the whole world happened —
there was nothing, and then…

But maybe some time you will look out and even
the mountains are gone, the world become nothing
again. What can a person do to help
bring back the world?

We have to watch it and then look at each other.
Together we hold it close and carefully
save it, like a bubble that can disappear
if we don’t watch out.

Please think about this as you go on. Breathe on the world.
Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings
roll along, watch how they open and close, how they
invite you to the long party that your life is.

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