Prior to the election there was only one location set up for early voting in my town, the Evanston Civic Center.  I had heard tales of long lines of people waiting an interminably long time to vote. I knew I didn’t want to do that.   So I pondered the possibility of early voting.

Since I would be attending an out-of-town family wedding the weekend prior to the election I worried.

What if something unforeseen happened? What if I didn’t make it back in time? What if my  plane crashed and I hadn’t cast my vote in this historic election? What if…?

I decided to bite the bullet and go to the Civic Center on the next to last early voting day.

I had heard stories of other voters around the country standing in line for four—six—even eight hours.  While approaching the parking lot my fears were realized. There was no place to park in the huge lot and street parking was bumper to bumper. I was not the only driver looking for a place to park.  Had they ever thought of hiring a valet service?  I gulped.

Finally, after fifteen minutes of seeking a parking space I found one.

Feeling aggravated and impatient I open the Civic Center door and just as I had feared the line meandered around and down the long hall.  “How long a wait”, I asked a woman leaving through the same door.  “Well, it took me two hours”.

Okay.  I’ll go for it.

I took my place. The line was not moving. I looked at my watch.

Coming down the hall was a guy wearing an official looking name badge. “We apologize”, he said, “but we are having trouble with some of our machines. Please be patient.”

One woman said she just couldn’t wait any longer. The line moved a few steps.

I saw some familiar faces, waved and smiled.  Then for some reason my resistance evaporated.  That’s when I saw my friend Carl, an ardent and zealous Republican.  When it comes to politics Carl and I have a more or less jocular relationship.

Suddenly, I found myself in a conversation with the woman behind me.  She told me she was an ER nurse at the University of Illinois Hospital and this was her only chance to vote as she would be doing a twelve hour shift on election day.  Her eyes moistened as she told me that her father was black and her mother, white.  You see? I have a lot in common with Barack Obama. I have to stay here and vote, no matter how long it takes!

The African American couple in front of me was accompanied by their 15 year old daughter. They both said that it was such a privilege to stand there and vote for Obama that they’d wait all night if need be.

These conversations gave me pause as I looked at the faces lined up and down the long corridor. They were black and white, Hispanic and Asian, old and young.  We were lined up not only to vote for president (though that was clearly the reason for the long line) but also for senator, congressional representatives, judges, and ballot initiatives. We stood in the queue to speak each in our own voice but to also to stand together as a community of human beings—what Martin Luther King Jr, called the beloved community.

We stood there mostly surrounded by strangers but sharing in friendly conversations not only about politics but about the work we do and the families we have and the things that are on our hearts.

Caught up in this human microcosm I looked up and realized it had been two hours.  We were close to the room with the voting machines.

My friend Carl proudly emerged wearing the little adhesive badge, “I voted”.  He came up to me laughing. We embraced as he proudly announced to me that he had voted for McCain and effectively cancelled my vote.  “Carl”, I said, “no you didn’t, your wife is a Democrat. She cancelled your vote.  My vote put Obama ahead.”  Playfully, we jabbed each other and laughed out loud. This typically light hearted exchange was a  reminder that our friendship runs deeper than our differences.

I will never meet again most of those with whom I shared that corridor.   But there we were, e pluribus unum—one out of many.   Different voices, different experiences and different lives yet we were there living one life together.

The word Guru comes from the ancient language of Sanskrit, the classical language of India.

A Guru is one who dispels darkness by giving light.

We usually associate this word with an enlightened spiritual teacher.  But on that day it occurred to me that the small sample of human beings who gathered to vote that day, were in truth, a guru for us all.

Once I stopped being so self possessed, I saw the light—the light of human community—the light of the beloved community.

Have you ever met this same guru face to face?