Civics Lesson

9262539322_19fce888d4_zLast Wednesday, a member of our synagogue congregation died. Mel was 88, a soft-spoken man who never boasted of his distinguished academic career as a science professor at a local university, or of the science text he wrote that was used by thousands of college students nationwide.

A popular teacher, he was also a quiet and dedicated community volunteer, who could be relied upon for keeping meticulous minutes as secretary for several boards. He loved to hike and play tennis and be surrounded by his large extended family.

In recent years, his health had declined. He was reliant on oxygen and rarely went out, except to see his physicians. Tuesday morning, Election Day, he had gone with his wife to the doctor’s. All seemed fine.

From the doctor’s, they planned to pick up the one fast food meal he loved and could still eat. But on the way, Mel asked his wife to stop at our synagogue, which is our ward’s polling place. He was too weak to enter the building, so the police officer on duty brought a ballot out to the car so he could still vote. Afterwards, the couple picked up his favorite meal and drove home. He struggled to get out of the car. Inside the house, he collapsed. Mel died the following day.

On Tuesday, I had almost skipped voting. I’d returned from a business trip to NYC late Monday and was exhausted. I nearly forgot it was Election Day, only realizing it when I saw the note on my calendar that morning. It was “just” a municipal election, and I still hadn’t figured out whom to vote for. I was juggling client work and other responsibilities. The temptation not to bother was strong.

But I forced myself. I would have felt guilty if I’d let it go. A half-hour before I had to leave the house for another commitment, I quickly searched the Internet for reliable information about the candidates, made some notes and ran to the polls. It was far too rushed. I should have been paying closer attention to the election all along. But I felt better for voting. The mayor was facing a serious challenge from another candidate whose views and style were divisive. Whatever the outcome, I’d done my part.

As it turned out, the mayor won. But he could have just as easily lost. Only about 21 percent of registered voters in the city bothered to go to the polls.

One of those voters was Mel. The man was weak and frail and his heart was giving out. But he cast his ballot. His last public act was his final important lesson—voting matters.

So despite how busy or tired I am, how crummy I may be feeling, or how minor the election may seem, I will always remember Mel’s example, come Election Day. The right to vote in free elections is precious—never to be taken for granted. And every vote counts, right to the end.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at

Image Credit: Ingmar Zahorsky


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    This is a wonderful tribute to Mel, and incidentally, to his wife’s devotion. Your post is also a timely reminder about our responsibility to vote. When my mother was born, women were not even allowed to vote in national elections in the U.S. I try to remember that hard-fought battle on election day.

    I am always moved by the scene when I go to vote. Here we all are, neighbors of all ages and conditions, with diverse political views, and we can line up in orderly fashion, without fear or violence. Some have small children in tow; some have assisted an elderly relative or friend to get there. In so many countries in the world, a scene like this cannot occur. We should not forget that fact.

  2. What a wonderful tribute to a lovely man! I hope you share this with his family and I would love to find a way to share with our community at BI. Please let me know how you think we might do this.

    And, of course, Pat you put things so well.

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