2017-08-10 / Opinion

It doesn’t have to be

There are two fundamental beliefs in the world: One, the fatalist notion that events are pre-ordained and destiny is a story written long ago to dictate what will come, and two, the belief that what happens doesn’t have to be, necessarily.

After talking to U.S. Sen. (retired) and former Florida Gov. Bob Graham twice in two days recently, I find myself squarely in the second camp. We aren’t necessarily captains of our own ship: Mortality, for example, is the inevitable outcome we don’t direct. But future events have a great deal to do with actions we take in our personal and public lives now.

Sen. Graham convinced me, again.

At 80, after 38 years serving Florida in local, regional, state and national offices, he’s working his butt off privately to improve the quality of life future Floridians might inherit from us — people who will carry out their lives in a world where he no longer draws breath.


Sen. Bob Graham’s new edition of “America: The Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall — and Win,” a how-to primer. Sen. Bob Graham’s new edition of “America: The Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall — and Win,” a how-to primer. He’s an ardent champion of Everglades restoration and Florida’s water systems. He’s a novelist and the author of non-fiction books explaining clearly how the government works and how to participate in it as a private citizen. He’s the cause celeb of the University of Florida’s feted Bob Graham Center for Public Service, and he’s a person who knows how to listen.

So do I, and I began to hear hope like distant pipes in his conversation, a call-to-arms music to stand and face the storm — to take some action, to take some responsibility, to fight back against the cynical, the superstitious, the bigoted, the propagandists, the greedy and the liars for whom facts are stumbling blocks.

It’s not as hard as it sounds.

The heart of the notion that we shape the future (not the stars or something else) is our significant American opportunity to weigh in, with a purpose.

After all, Republicans and Democrats alike, the left and the right, tend to love their children. And all of us can get real about helping children and showing them how to help their own, someday.

I decided to buy a car that gets 25 miles per gallon of gasoline, not 50; I decided to pay less and buy food that came from China or South America, or from corporate food producers here who loaded it with potential toxins, rather than purchasing local or organic food; I decided I was too busy to register to vote, or on voting day too busy to get to the polls, so I wasn’t able to support the political candidate trying to clean up our water faster.

I decided to quit talking to family members, friends, colleagues, Facebook friends or bumper-stickered boneheads trucking down the highway in the left lane, going too slow for traffic, because I don’t like their politics or their inconsiderate driving styles.

None of that had to be. Fate is not in charge of those decisions I made — decisions with profound consequences.

When communications cease, Sen. Graham said, so does progress. Once in the Capitol’s Senate dining room in Washington, he remembered, Republicans and Democrats would sit together for lunch chatting and communing, after long mornings debating each other on the Senate floor.

“When I got to Washington,” he added, serious as a judge, “many of my best friends were Republicans.” That was 1987, after he’d already served as governor for eight years, leaving Tallahassee with an unprecedented approval rating of 83 percent of Florida voters. He’d spend the next 16 years or so in the Senate. He sought the presidential nomination as a Democrat in 2003 and 2004, but had to step out after a heart attack and surgery, and a faltering campaign. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who won the nomination, considered him for a vice presidential pick — Graham would likely have carried Florida for Kerry against George W. Bush — but chose John Edwards instead. And lost in Florida, in a very close presidential race.

That was not written in the stars, but we live with the consequences.

Now, both Republicans and Democrats do everything they can to avoid each other in quiet moments in or out of the Senate dining room in Washington, Sen. Graham says.

But it doesn’t have to be.

I could decide to buy the car with the better gas mileage and drive it a bit less by carpooling, for example. I could stop on the way home at the local farmers market, quit eating meat all the time, and vote for somebody bent on protecting water by getting myself to the polls on election day.

I could even decide to talk to that Trumper in his big bumper-stickered pick-up, slowing traffic in the left lane.

“Hey, You Sonofa…”

But it doesn’t have to be. ¦

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