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Wednesday, November 5, 2008; Page A23

Three conversations on Election Eve:

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One: A friend recounts a traumatic childhood event, prompting me to say something like, "Oh, that must have been horrible."

"No," he says. "Horrible was Auschwitz. What those children experienced was horrible."

Two: Mary Ann Lindley, another friend, colleague and editorial page editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, tells me she's just finished rereading Charles Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities."

"On a single day in France, 52 heads rolled at the guillotine -- numbed, accused innocents, impoverished, starved, beyond hope," she writes in an e-mail. "They went to their death in the bloodiest of ways, some of them nevertheless saying that the sacrifice was worth it if it meant a France that would one day recognize a more generous definition of human dignity."

Three: Blake, an African American artist, is giddy with excitement as we discuss the presidential race. He is thrilled that his 99-year-old grandmother is alive to vote for Barack Obama.

Still sharp and active, she's seen a thing or two in her lifetime. Having gone from the era of segregated movie theaters and "colored" water fountains -- through bloody marches, hoses and dogs -- to a moment when a black man could be president of the United States, she is among many who can't quite believe what's happening.

Perspective, perspective, perspective.

Or, as Lindley put it, "What a cupcake of an election."

We Americans are so spoiled. We're well-fed and well-medicated; our biggest problem is that we can have everything. For the past decade, credit has been easy; tract mansions possible and new cars a staple. Mortgages were, almost literally, a dime a dozen.

Granted, not everyone got to play "Monopoly," but our hardships are relatively benign compared with what a majority of the world's people suffer. And, obviously, one needn't go to the extreme of conjuring gas chambers, guillotines and terrorists in white robes to understand that times have been worse.

But it helps on a day like today, when half the nation is angry and disappointed, that we are still the luckiest people on Earth. And this is still the greatest nation ever conceived by man.


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